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Mary and Fatima in 
Medieval Christianity 
and Shfite Islam 


Chosen among Women 

Chosen among Women 

Mary and Fatima 

in Medieval Christianity 
and Shiite Islam 

Mary F. Thurlkill 

University of Notre Dame Press 
Notre Dame, Indiana 

Copyright © 2007 by University of Notre Dame 
Notre Dame, Indiana 46566 
All Rights Reserved 

Manufactured in the United States of America 

Reprinted in 2 0 1 0 

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data 
Thurlkill, Mary F., 1969- 

Chosen among women : Mary and Fatima in medieval Christianity 
and Shfite Islam / Mary F. Thurlkill. 
p. cm. 

Includes bibliographical references (p. ) and index. 

ISBN-13: 978-0-268-04231-8 (pbk. : alk. paper) 

ISBN-10: 0-268-04231-4 (pbk. : alk. paper) 

1. Mary, Blessed Virgin, Saint — History of doctrines — Middle Ages, 600-1500. 
2. Fatimah, d. 632 or 3. 3. Shi' ah — Doctrines — History. I. Title 
BT612.T48 2007 
232.91— dc22 

A This book is printed on recycled paper. 

For Edmund and Geraldine Thurlkill 

And for 

my students, 

who always challenge and inspire 


Acknowledgments ix 

Preliminary Notes xi 

Introduction 1 

One Holy Women in Context 1 1 

Two Holy Women in Holy Texts 27 

Three Virgins and Wombs 41 

Four Mothers and Families 67 

Five Sacred Art and Architecture: Holy Women in Built Form 99 
Conclusion 119 

Appendix: Genealogies 125 

Glossary of A rabic T erms 129 

List of Abbreviations 133 

Notes 135 

Bibliography 179 

Index 201 


When time for writing these acknowledgments approached, I noticed 
a sharp increase in my propensity for procrastination. I have lived with 
Mary and Fatima for so long, providing the final touches to the manu- 
script feels like a death of sorts, not only the end of a research project, 
but also the loss of a part of myself. I first met medieval Mary and Fatima 
when I was an undergraduate at the University of Arkansas; they fol- 
lowed me to Indiana University for my graduate work and to Southern 
Arkansas University for my first academic post. They remain close by, 
now at the University of Mississippi, as I begin the tenure process. The 
Blessed Virgin and Fatima al-Zahra have remained my constants as I 
moved across various state lines, making new friends and leaving old 
ones and learning to face the challenges of life in academia. It is with 
profound humility and sadness that I now complete my time spent with 
their lives and legacies and introduce them to my readers. 

Because this study has consumed me for so many years, there are 
many people to thank for their continued support and encouragement. 
First, however, I should like to recognize the generosity of Southern 
Arkansas University and Ole Miss; both institutions provided summer 
research funds that allowed me time to write. Various colleagues and 
friends also made this book possible: Paul Babbitt, who counted my para- 
digm shifts; David Brakke and Dyan Elliot, who read early drafts; Jan 
and Bonnie Duke; Chris and Maren Foley; Ben Johnson; the Rasmussen 
clan, who protected my sanity; William Tucker; Mary Jo Weaver; and 
James Willis. 

I especially want to thank two mentors and friends, Lynda Coon 
and Scott Alexander. I met Lynda when I was an undergraduate, and 




she challenged my notions of history, religion, and gender. During her 
classes, I reexamined everything I thought I knew about myself and 
the world around me. She continued to offer advice — and sometimes 
threats — throughout my graduate career; and she provided a critical 
reading of the manuscript in its final stages. Her comments revealed 
her stunningly sophisticated insights that compelled me to rewrite and 
revise in imitation of her own scholarship (though not always success- 
fully). Scott Alexander, my mentor at Indiana University, introduced 
me to the mysteries of the Arabic language and guided me with ques- 
tions and comments during hours of conversation about Shkism, the 
holy family, and comparative religion. I remain in awe of his breadth of 
knowledge, generous spirit, and masterful teaching. In view of Lynda 
and Scott’s constant encouragement, it seems disingenuous to present 
this work as wholly my own — I can hear their comments, opinions, and 
critiques blending with my analysis in conversation (and sometimes dis- 
agreement) about medieval hagiography, holiness, and gender. Without 
their voices, this book would not exist. 

Preliminary Notes 


The Latin and Arabic transliterations for all extensive quotations are 
provided in the notes. Modern translations that I consulted are identified 
following the appropriate citation. 

I have attempted to render all important Latin and Arabic terms into 
English. I have retained two Arabic designations that, because of their 
mystical bent, escape a literal translation: nur , or light, is the preexistent 
form of Muhammad and the Imams who resided on Allah’s throne in 
paradise; ahl al-bayt , or people of the house, refers to Muhammad’s 
family. According to Shfite theology, Allah awards the Prophet’s family, 
the ahl al-bayt , special authority and status among humanity. The appen- 
dix includes a glossary of Arabic terms for nonspecialists. 

T ransliteration 

I have standardized as many Arabic transliterations as possible, so I do 
not use the macron or underdot in the body of the text. I do include all 
diacritical marks in the notes, following the transliteration guide ad- 
hered to by the International Journal of Middle East Studies. I do not 
include diacritics for common words and names; for example, the ahl 
al-bayt* s names are rendered as Muhammad, Fatima, AJi, Hasan, and 
Husayn throughout the text and notes. 


Preliminary Notes 



The standard Gregorian dating system is employed throughout the work. 
Therefore, all Islamic dates (AH) are converted to common era (CE). 


Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you. . . . Do not be afraid, 
Mary, for you have found favor with God. (Luke 1.28-30) 

Allah has chosen you and purified you and chosen you above women 
of all peoples. (Qur’an 3.42) 

According to both Christianity and Islam, the angel Gabriel delivered the 
above pronouncements to Mary, informing her that she would give birth 
to a son even though she was a virgin. Mary obeyed God’s will and bore 
the Christians’ God-Man and the Muslims’ great prophet, v Isa/Jesus. 
Shf ite tradition relates that Gabriel repeated the same Qur’anic pro- 
nouncement to another favored woman, Fatima, the prophet Muham- 
mad’s daughter, also known as Maryam al-kubra , or Mary the Greater. 1 
For Shfites God chose both women for a sublime purpose, mothers of 
an exalted progeny; yet Fatima, as Maryam al-kubra , surpasses Mary in 
both purity and divine favor. 

Mary and Fatima afford scholars of medieval Christianity, Islam, and 
gender studies an opportunity to examine feminine imagery in sacred tra- 
ditions. Christian authors elevated Mary as Christ’s mother, and Shf ite 
authors recognized Fatima’s offspring as their community’s infallible 


2 Chosen among Women 

leaders (called Imams). Both religions asserted the holy women’s won- 
drous bodies and deeds without compromising their more conservative 
feminine ideals. As Mary and Fatima performed miracles, rewarded the 
pious, and punished the heretical, they also remained submissive, chaste, 
and immaculate. 

Mary and Fatima provided more than just models for feminine com- 
pliance, however; these female exemplars also betray complex political, 
social, and religious agendas. Late antique and early medieval Christian 
authors (c. 200-750 CE) identified Mary with the church and labeled 
those outside as heretics. Early medieval Shkite authors (c. 700-1000 
CE) explained that Fatima led her supporters to paradise and consigned 
her enemies to the hellfire. Hagiographers and theologians alike imbued 
Mary and Fatima with symbolic markers of political, theological, and 
communal identity as they redefined their societies. 

In late antiquity and the early Middle Ages, church fathers and ha- 
giographers transformed Mary into a symbol of sectarian identity. The 
fifth-century theologians Augustine and Ambrose assimilated Mary to 
the Christian church: both remained pure and spotless, yet fecund with 
converts. Mary symbolized an emerging orthodoxy (or, right theology); 
those labeled heterodox remained outside her maternal care. 

The early Merovingian Kingdom (c. 400-750 CE) also employed 
Mary as a symbol of unity and orthodoxy. The Merovingians revolu- 
tionized the late Roman Empire in Gaul. They were a Frankish tribe 
that both supplanted and assimilated Roman rule, Gallo-Roman cultural 
patterns, and Rome’s state religion. 2 When the Franks converted to or- 
thodox Christianity, they infiltrated the church’s ruling structures as 
bishops and further stabilized their sovereignty. As an orthodox Chris- 
tian kingdom, they separated themselves from their barbarian competi- 
tors, the Arian Huns and the Goths. 3 Fourth-century church fathers and 
theologians had pronounced Arianism a heresy that denied Christ’s full 
divinity; the Merovingians thus became orthodox Christians among a sea 
of Arian enemies. 

Frankish authors proclaimed their unique Christian identity by adopt- 
ing several Gallo-Roman saints (e.g., Saint Martin of Tours, a fourth- 
century holy man from Gaul) as well as more ecumenical holy figures (e.g., 
the Virgin Mary). In their sacred histories and hagiographies Frankish au- 
thors also assimilated their holy women to Marian prototypes. Just as the 

Introduction 3 

Virgin Mary nurtured and sustained Christians, Merovingian queens and 
abbesses mothered their emerging communities and congregations. Some 
Merovingian bishops and priests even advertised their authority with Mar- 
ian relics. 4 Marian imagery in the early Middle Ages, prolific yet often 
subtle, reflected the Franks’ Christianization and orthodoxy in the midst 
of both God and the Merovingians’ heretical enemies. By affiliating them- 
selves with Mary, Frankish authors managed to sharpen their communal 
boundaries without seriously threatening traditional gender expectations. 

The proliferation of Fatima imagery also signaled religious and po- 
litical shifts in the Islamic community by the eighth and ninth centuries. 
Shf ite scholars began to outline their basic theological assumptions and 
tenets, which firmly identified their orthodoxy against other Shki groups 
as well as their Sunni competitors. 5 The Shkites acknowledged Ali, Mu- 
hammad’s cousin and son-in-law, as the Prophet’s chosen successor; they 
also recognized Ali’s offspring as the true religious authority regardless 
of any other political ruler. The Shka soon disagreed, however, as to 
who the Imams actually were: some designated five, some seven, and 
others twelve different figures. They all accepted the Imam as infallible 
and pure; there was disagreement as to several of the Imams’ identities. 

As the Shkite community honed its sectarian theology regarding the 
Imamate, it emphasized Fatima’s miraculous motherhood. Theologians 
outlined her attributes to explain the Imams’ status: they existed before 
created time; they were infallible; they possessed divine wisdom. Fatima, 
the only female among Muhammad’s miraculous holy family (the ahl 
al-bayt), supplied the Prophet’s sublime progeny and then welcomed 
others into the group as extended kin. Yet, as in Christianity, male au- 
thors simultaneously praised Fatima’s virtues while extolling the holy 
family’s masculine dominance. Fatima’s presence among the ahl al-bayt 
ultimately depended on her role as Muhammad’s daughter, "Ali’s wife, 
and the Imams’ mother. 

The majority Sunni Muslims, on the other hand, elected the Proph- 
et’s friend and companion, Abu Bakr, as the rightful legatee after Mu- 
hammad’s death. These supporters of Muhammad’s companions, instead 
of his family, eventually founded the Umayyad caliphate (661-750 CE). 
In the largely Sunni Muslim empire, most Shkites openly heeded caliphal 
rule while they credited the Imams ("Ali and Fatima’s descendants) as 
their true spiritual guides. 

4 Chosen among Women 

Locating Mary and Fatima within these early Christian and Muslim 
milieus is a difficult task for many reasons. First, a successful compari- 
son brings together sources from two disparate cultures at times of criti- 
cal shifts in communal and religious identity. There is no historical or 
geographic symmetry. In the Christian context, Marian imagery appears 
in the earliest theological treatises and continues into Merovingian cir- 
cles in western Europe (c. 200-750 CE). In the Muslim context, Fatima 
imagery becomes particularly prevalent during the Abbasid caliphate 
(750-1258 CE) and proliferates throughout Shfite dynasties in Egypt, 
Persia, and Yemen. While dissimilar in space and time, both Christian 
and Muslim audiences struggled to define themselves in a rapidly chang- 
ing world. 

Second, comparing Mary and Fatima depends on vastly different 
types of sources. Late antiquity and the early medieval period yield a 
number of ecclesiastical treatises and hagiographies referring to the Vir- 
gin. From these texts scholars can glimpse the elite, theological descrip- 
tions of Mary alongside the more approachable miracle texts and ritual 
descriptions. Theologians clearly rely on Mary’s miraculous body as they 
define their Christology; hagiographers subtly elevate Mary as a model 
for holy women to imitate. Merovingian authors even present many of 
their queens and abbesses as sublime virgins, styled in Mary’s image. 

Shfite sources that extol Fatima are more difficult to categorize. An 
ideal cross-cultural comparison would correlate Fatima images in theol- 
ogy and hagiography with their Christian counterparts; unfortunately, 
no easy parallel exists. Shfite theologians and hagiographers alike relied 
on the transmission of hadith (sayings about the Prophet and his family) 
to define the Imams’ miraculous nature. Hadith collections, often anon- 
ymous, reveal the emerging beliefs and teachings esteemed by the early 
Shf a. They provide a theology as well as hagiographic accounts of the 
Imams’ miraculous deeds. 

Like their Merovingian counterparts, Shfite hagiographers as- 
similated powerful queens to their idealized Holy Woman. Unlike the 
Merovingians, who ruled in Gaul, however, Shfites lived and ruled 
throughout the Middle East. Scholars have yet to examine systematically 
the gendered rhetoric employed by specific Shfite communities, particu- 
larly how they imagined Fatima. The Ismahli queen Arwa (d. 1138) ruled 
Yemen, for example, and she assumed many of Fatima’s characteristics. 

Introduction 5 

The Safavid dynasty, founded in sixteenth- century Iran, also styled many 
of its queens as new Fatimas, with epithets similar to their namesake’s. 
These appellations included al-zahra (the radiant), tahira (pure), and 
masuma (infallible). 6 This study explores the more general Shfite beliefs 
regarding Fatima transmitted through common collections of hadith. It 
provides a foundation for future, more discrete works that might analyze 
how and to what purpose specific dynastic leaders chose to transform 
pious women into their own “Fatima of the age.” 7 

The third difficulty of comparing Mary and Fatima within their re- 
spective traditions is that male authors often described them with con- 
flicting and paradoxical images. 8 Mary and Fatima were both idealized 
yet inimitable, chaste yet fecund, intercessors yet submissive handmaids. 
Such bewildering imagery leaves the historian questioning how Chris- 
tian and Islamic communities actually viewed women and gender roles. 

According to theologians, for example, God elevated Mary and 
Fatima as venerable mothers and exceptional women. Yet they were ab- 
errations among their sex: part of their charismatic authority stemmed 
from the fact that God transformed them into pure vessels (a miracle 
in itself). For Christians Mary held God-made-flesh within her chaste 
womb and, according to early church fathers, eschewed public activities 
by confining herself within domestic boundaries. 9 Scholars promoted 
Mary as the perfect model for all young virgins to imitate: be chaste and 
stay at home. 10 At the same time, Christian scholars labeled women in 
late antique and early medieval Christianity as the spiritually depraved 
daughters of Eve. Women symbolized the sinful flesh finally conquered 
by Christ’s redemptive act. No greater miracle could occur in late antiq- 
uity than the transformation of a female into a holy figure. Such a salvific 
event only emphasized the abundance of God’s mercy as such a lowly 
female sinner received grace. 11 

Islamic theology placed women in an equally precarious role. Classi- 
cal texts included women among shayatin (devilish) forces sent to delude 
and confuse male Muslims. 12 Islamic rhetoric also equated the female with 
the base soul ( nafs ) that tempted humanity to sin. 13 Yet Shfite scholars 
also praised Fatima, the prophet Muhammad’s daughter, as the mother 
of the Shfite Imams. 14 As matriarch Fatima shared the Imams’ privileged 
status and miraculous gifts; she, uniquely among women, remained ritu- 
ally pure and divinely inspired. 

6 Chosen among Women 

Both Christian and Muslim theological systems condemned the fe- 
male body in its impurity and taint while extolling Mary and Fatima as 
holy vessels for sublime offspring. Hagiographers transformed the two 
holy women into pristine containers of God’s presence, presenting mul- 
tivalent images of the womb. Early church fathers encouraged believ- 
ers, both male and female, to become pregnant with God’s seed (faith) 
and produce children (good works) just as Mary conceived Christ in her 
womb. 15 According to Shi'ite cosmology, Fatima’s womb held the nur 
(light) of the Imamate; her purity protected this radiant “semen,” and she 
gave birth to Hasan and Husayn, God’s chosen Imams. 

Political and sectarian discourse reveals equally contradictory ver- 
sions of Mary and Fatima in theological texts. 16 Male authors manipu- 
lated their holy women’s lives and miracles to reflect shifting social and 
political identities. Nascent Christian and Shi'ite communities associated 
themselves with these feminine figures and celebrated their miraculous 
powers. In doing so, these communities formulated and advertised new 
political boundaries and sectarian divisions. 

Mary and Fatima as mothers, quickly synonymous with orthodox 
(right) doctrine, effectively weaned their communities from hellfire. One 
medieval exegete associated Fatima’s name with the root meaning, 

( f-t-m ), which can mean “to wean.” 17 Fatima has the authority to in- 
tercede for her family (i.e., the Shi' a) on judgment day and condemn 
her enemies to eternal hellfire. Hagiographers express that authority 
through her domestic station as the holy family’s sublime matriarch: she 
cares for her family’s earthly needs, cleans the home, feeds her family 
and neighbors (often through miraculous intervention), and provides 
wise counsel to her children and husband. Christian Marian imagery also 
describes a powerful heavenly matriarch, seated at her Son’s right hand, 
ready to intercede for the church and dismiss the heterodox. She gained 
that position, however, by submitting to God’s will as his holy hand- 
maid. Male authors encourage Christian women, including abbesses and 
secular queens, to imitate that submissive quality. In both cases, the male 
householder never yields his ultimate authority: the father and sons rule 
within the ahl al-bayt , and the male priest presides over the church. 

These theologies and ideologies regarding Mary and Fatima ap- 
pear not only in sacred narratives but also in material culture. 18 Mary’s 
and Fatima’s textual bodies literally assumed built form while appealing 

Introduction 7 

more widely to believers’ imaginations. Early Christian catacombs and 
churches displayed images of Mary, glorified as virgin, mother, and bride. 
Mosque lamps and prayer niches could easily be interpreted as symbol- 
izing Fatima’s radiant presence along with the Imams’. Shf ite amulets 
shaped as the human hand effectively evoked the ahl al-bayt's intercessory 
authority. Medieval artists and architects transformed their theological, 
social, and political symbols into visual form. 

This work concentrates on feminine imagery in political, cultural, 
and theological rhetoric as well as material culture during periods of 
transformation and conversion. This approach reflects current trends 
among gender historians to correlate structures of power and authority 
with the literary and rhetorical nature of feminine imagery. As poststruc- 
turalist theory dictates, cultural systems often modify gender categories 
to accentuate changes in political and social conventions. 19 For scholars 
of Christianity and Islam, for example, the early medieval shift of Mary 
and Fatima imagery signals dramatic social, political, and even religious 
transitions. Male authors employed Mary and Fatima as rhetorical tools 
in a complex discourse of identity and orthodoxy; they were more than 
models for women to emulate. 

This approach is in sharp contrast to earlier feminist theory and 
modes of historical inquiry. During the 1970s, feminist historians of 
early Christianity read late antique and early medieval authors as patri- 
archal proof texts. Feminist theologians rejected early church writings as 
misogynistic and oppressive. 20 In the 1980s, more moderate revisionist 
historians sought to reclaim the church’s secret history by revealing the 
actual lives of pious women. Although women were largely absent from 
the texts, feminists sought to re-create women’s considerable contribu- 
tions to the early Christian movement. 21 

A feminist hermeneutic concerning women in Islam is more difficult 
to trace. Works available to Western audiences confine women to apolo- 
getic argument, descriptive historiography, or modern political rhetoric. 22 
Modern feminists reimagine early Islamic women in an attempt to discour- 
age veiling, segregation, and patriarchal leadership in Muslim societies. 
Scholars generally ignore the abundant gender imagery and the rhetorical 
nature of miracle accounts to focus on their own political agendas. 

More recent historical methodology attuned to literary criticism and 
poststructuralist examinations of gender and culture allows for a review 

8 Chosen among Women 

of feminine imagery in general and Mary and Fatima in particular. Most 
Marian scholars, for example, largely neglect the fourth through eighth 
centuries and focus on the Marian cult’s rapid proliferation during the 
high and late Middle Ages. Scholars of Islam include brief surveys that 
recount Fatima’s exalted position within ShFite Islam, yet none move 
beyond detailed narratives to offer feminist interpretation. Scholars still 
argue over Fatima’s historicity and generally ignore the social and gen- 
der implications of Fatima texts. 23 

This study, in contrast, focuses on late antique and early medieval 
Christianity, particularly in Gaul, as well as medieval ShFism. The pres- 
ence of Marian imagery in Merovingian Gaul is certainly not an excep- 
tion among the barbarian kingdoms. It is clear, for example, that Mary’s 
cult flourished in Anglo-Saxon England well before the Norman inva- 
sion. 24 Bede explains that the earliest missionaries such as Augustine and 
Mellitus sent by Pope Gregory the Great in the late sixth and early sev- 
enth century brought Marian relics such as her hair along with them. 25 
Early lives of the Irish Saint Brigid also mention the Virgin Mary: ha- 
giographers recommend that female saints participate in Christ’s divine 
motherhood along with Mary herself. 26 Historians would benefit from 
future explorations of Marian imagery in these western empires with an 
eye toward political and sectarian motivation, in the same way that this 
work concentrates on Gaul. 

Although this study limits its investigation of Christian Marian im- 
agery to late antiquity and early medieval Gaul, it approaches Shf ite ac- 
counts of Fatima more universally because of the nature of the sources. 
Tracing and confining Shi v ite traditions to their specific geographic roots 
is almost impossible (and would constitute another book in itself). This 
study examines Shi" ite theologians and hagiographers who generally 
lauded the Imams’ lives and miracles while exploring the community’s 
connection as a whole to a pristine past. As already noted, future studies 
might well reveal the many ways that specific Shkite dynasties assimilated 
their royal women to a Fatima prototype. 

By exploring the various conventions of Christian and Shi v ite sanctity, 
I offer a comparison of cross-cultural hagiography, a complex symbolic 
literature that assumes divergent forms in each cultural milieu. Hagiogra- 
phies are contentious texts for scholars of both religions, yet male authors 
employed this literary genre to promote Mary and Fatima effectively as 

Introduction 9 

feminine exempla. Read skillfully, hagiographies provide historians and 
feminists alike with not only sacred models meant to transcend time and 
space but also reflections of contemporary political and social debates. 
Such texts reveal distinct cultural contexts wherein male authors con- 
struct feminine images for a variety of audiences and purposes. 

Chapter One 

Holy Women in Context 

Hagiographers certainly embellished Mary and Fatima’s roles in Chris- 
tianity and Shfite Islam for rhetorical purpose. Throughout sacred texts 
these women perform various miracles such as healing the (pious) sick and 
punishing the (heretical) evildoers with righteous anger. Historians, on 
the other hand, have struggled to locate Mary and Fatima chronologically, 
in their sociopolitical contexts. Although their historical personae might 
be forever shrouded in sacred memory, scholars can identify some of the 
pivotal moments in theological debates and dynastic lineages when Mary’s 
and Fatima’s veneration proliferated most fervently. 

Late antique Christian theologians, for example, invoked the Vir- 
gin Mary as an image of orthodoxy; Mary’s body displayed the church’s 
purity and incorruptibility. Battling theologians, arguing most ardently 
over Christ’s nature, articulated their ideas by describing Mary’s na- 
ture. Early medieval dynasties depended on the same didactic technique. 
Families such as the Merovingians aligned themselves with the Blessed 
Virgin and orthodox Christianity against their barbarian counterparts 
(who adhered mostly to Arian Christianity; i.e., those Christians who 
denied that Jesus was cosubstantial with the Father). 

In a similar fashion, the evolving shi ' at Ali (party of v Ali) came to de- 
fine themselves through their connection with Fatima. While all Muslims 


12 Chosen among Women 

esteemed Fatima as the Prophet’s daughter, she uniquely symbolized the 
reverence for and status of the Prophet’s family among the early Shi'a. 
Shfite theologians developed a distinctive notion of authority that they 
believed passed from the Prophet to Ali and his descendants (the Imams) 
through Fatima. Fatima’s maternity became increasingly important as 
Shi v i scholars defined her miraculous, pure, and intercessory capacities 
to strengthen a definition of power imbued with spiritual significance 
and unique to Ali’s patriline and Fatima’s matriline. As Fatima’s descen- 
dants became more privileged, various Shf ite groupings emerged, some- 
times arguing over the Imams’ true identity and then forging separate 
dynastic claims. 

The historical personae of both Mary and Fatima thus may be hid- 
den within layers of hagiographic formulas and sacred memory, but the 
sociopolitical contexts from which they emerge can be reconstructed to 
some degree. Hagiographers and theologians, Christians and ShFites, 
retold and reformulated the women’s lives to reflect and refine emerg- 
ing notions of sanctity, community, and dynastic authority. Mary and 
Fatima, shaped and reshaped through time, demonstrate the importance 
of women in constructing a sense of historical anamnesis and identity. 1 

Mary , the Church , and the Merovingians 

Mary’s greatest contribution to Christian theology is perhaps that she 
literally conferred flesh upon Jesus, the Christ. Yet early Christian sects 
considered this seemingly basic point the most controversial; many 
groups argued over the exact nature of Jesus well into the fourth and 
fifth centuries. Gnostic groups questioned whether Divinity could be 
encapsulated in flesh; Arian Christians suggested Jesus was created in 
time and thus was unlike God the Father. Only by the fifth century did 
an emerging Christian orthodoxy firmly claim that Christ, fully divine 
and equal to the Father, bore a human body composed of flesh and blood 
that suffered and died at Calvary. Theologians made such assertions by 
designating Mary Theotokos, or God-bearer, to prove Christ’s unique 
composition. 2 Nestorian Christians quickly countered this claim and 
forced the church to finally, and very distinctly, define the God-Man’s 
nature and birth. 

Holy Women in Context 1 3 

The church confirmed Mary as Theotokos at the Council of Ephe- 
sus in 431 CE (although the title had appeared throughout theologi- 
cal discourse since the time of Origen, d. 254 CE). The council acted 
after a heated dispute developed between two important church leaders. 
Nestorius, patriarch of Constantinople, considered the title Theotokos 
an infringement on the God-Man’s divinity. 3 The appellation, he feared, 
implied that the deity required a natural birth, a mundane gestation; to 
suggest that Mary contained God within her womb bordered on pagan- 
ism. Cyril, bishop of Alexandria, insisted that Mary as Theotokos verified 
the unity of Christ. The Marian appellation showed clearly, he believed, 
that Christ was God and Man simultaneously. At the hastily convened 
council, church leaders sanctioned Cyril’s position, condemned Nesto- 
rius, and presented Mary’s new title to a boisterous crowd. 

The Council of Ephesus generated Marian devotion almost as a by- 
product of Christological explanation. Popular piety had already revealed 
a vibrant Marian devotion evidenced in prolific tales of her infancy and 
childhood, yet theologians also harnessed the image and popularity of 
Mary in their emerging orthodoxy regarding both Christ and his church. 
Mary functioned as a proof text for Christ’s unique nature as well as 
a metaphor for the church itself. Both Mary and the ecclesia evoke the 
image of a spotless, pure virgin and a fecund mother producing Christian 

Church officials’ use of Mary to craft a Christian orthodoxy corre- 
sponded with the Roman Empire’s political transformation. During the 
fifth and sixth centuries, Germanic kingdoms replaced the (once) more 
ecumenical Roman administration with local kings, bishops, and priests 
who wielded substantial local power. Holy men, in particular, served as 
theologians as well as political figures because the church easily appro- 
priated local vestiges of Roman authority. 4 Theological resolutions and 
even political might came to reside more in the church than traditional 
political offices. These church officials appeared particularly powerful as 
they defended their communities not against external, foreign enemies 
but against the internal abominations of heresy. 

By the late fifth and early sixth century, for example, the Gallo- 
Roman population no longer feared barbarian onslaughts, ethnic con- 
tamination, 5 or usurpation by Germanic overlords; in fact, Gregory 
of Tours considered most freemen of Gaul as Franks, even if they 

14 Chosen among Women 

descended from the indigenous Gallo-Roman population. 6 If they 
felt secure in some ways, however, they were not free from perceived 
threats of spiritual contamination. Church leaders viewed Arianism and 
Judaism as threats to Christian theology and life itself. The general 
Frankish population of Gaul identified their barbaric enemies not only 
in terms of ethnic or linguistic otherness but also as threats to Catholic 
orthodoxy. 7 

It is important to remember, too, that theological orthodoxy was not 
considered part of an elite culture accessible only to a literate scholarly 
class. 8 Theologians and laypersons alike debated many issues. While it 
would be difficult to find a sixth-century theologian of Augustine’s or 
Ambrose’s caliber, Christian orthodoxy was nonetheless felt and lived 
in every social stratum partly by way of the cult of saints, devotions pro- 
moted by the clergy and taken up avidly by the laity. Ideas about or- 
thodoxy were not located primarily in theological treatises or formulaic 
accounts of Trinitarian disputes. They were found in complex diatribes 
against heresy, which, in turn, were embedded in a variety of popular 
devotions, many of which centered on the figure of Mary. 9 

Orthodox Christianity, unlike its heretical counterparts, necessitated 
the union of humanity and divinity in the God-Man, Jesus. Judaism de- 
nied Jesus as the Messiah, and Arianism questioned the full divinity of 
Christ, thinking him a creature and therefore not on the order of the Cre- 
ator. Both refused the Christian claim that in Jesus the human and divine 
were united in one person and thus denied that the vast chasm between 
God and humanity could be bridged. 

Orthodox (or “right”) Christianity, in contrast, maintained that 
Christ could and did breach the abyss separating heaven and earth. 
Christ was not only a divine person capable of uniting humanity and 
divinity within himself; he afforded a model for others to follow. Ac- 
cordingly, saints, by imitating Christ, could themselves transcend the 
human condition after death by taking on immortality in an eternal para- 
dise. The power of the Jesus story and those of the saints animated the 
landscape of medieval Gaul. In the experiences of ordinary people, the 
divine touched their lives every day, every moment, through miracu- 
lous healings, exorcisms, and intercession. 10 Catholic orthodoxy and its 
prolific hagiography confirmed miraculous displays of divine power and 
effectively denounced Arianism and Judaism. 

Holy Women in Context 1 5 

Such imagery was not unexpected as Merovingian (and later Caro- 
lingian) historians assimilated their past to a biblical framework and re- 
named themselves the “new Israel.” 11 Gregory of Tours recognized the 
Frankish struggle to establish its kingdom and spread Christianity as one 
ordained by God. 12 The Franks’ eventual triumph was simply a matter of 
divine providence as they banished heresy (i.e., Arianism instead of the 
Israelites’ Canaanite enemies) and preached orthodox Catholicism. In 
his Ten Books of Histories, Gregory recasts Merovingian kings in the guise 
of Old Testament heroes. As Frankish warriors struggled against Goths 
and unruly offspring, they became new Davids braving the Philistine 
threat. 13 

Within the Merovingians’ early alignment with Israel, Mary takes 
on the role of Eve’s righteous counterpart. Extant Merovingian mis- 
sals (books describing the liturgy of the mass), for example, emphasize 
perfected Christianity as compared to imperfect Judaism. 14 The Bobbio 
Missal and the Missale Gothicum rely on temple ritual language to dem- 
onstrate the superiority of Christ, the sacrificial lamb, who completes 
the Old Covenant and initiates the New. In this system of salvation, the 
missals juxtapose the sinful Eve to the redemptive Mary while also af- 
firming Mary’s perpetual virginity. 15 Mary’s obedience to God’s will and 
miraculous parturition provide the mode of Christ’s birth, proof of his 
unique nature, and the foundation of Merovingian orthodoxy. 

Merovingian devotion to Mary is manifest in a number of other 
ways. First, Frankish Christians celebrated at least two masses dedicated 
to Mary, one being the Feast of the Assumption, during the liturgical 
calendar. 16 This feast recognized Mary’s bodily assumption into heaven 
without physical death, a theological point that became official doctrine 
only in 1950. Second, Merovingian holy men gained prestige through 
the procurement and possession of Mary’s relics. As the Franks accepted 
Mary’s bodily ascension, these relics probably related to her clothing or 
physical remains such as hair or breast milk. 

The cult of relics in general signified the church’s power on earth; 
miracles, exorcisms, and divine displays ratified God’s presence and 
provided a framework for Frankish communities to make sense of their 
world. 17 Merovingian royalty and aristocrats certainly understood the im- 
portance of relics as symbols of both authority and heavenly mandate. By 
the sixth century, aristocratic families also sought prominent bishoprics 

16 Chosen among Women 

throughout Gaul. Local authority, now centralized in the church offices 
instead of senatorial clout or ancestral prestige, provided a substantial 
source of sociopolitical ascendency. 18 The ownership or even the discov- 
ery of saintly relics only added to aristocratic fame in the competition for 
episcopal title. 19 

Saint cults and relics also enhanced royal authority in Gaul. The two 
Merovingian queens Brunhild and Balthild consolidated their position 
at court not only by supervising the appointment of bishops but also 
by managing local saint cults. 20 Brunhild sponsored Saint Martin’s local 
clique, and Balthild procured several different saints’ relics for her mon- 
asteries. 21 Merovingian kings and queens rendered themselves conduits 
of heavenly power by (ideally) appointing bishops sympathetic to their 
royal agendas and proving themselves appointees of the saints. These 
early medieval saint cults, in comparison with those of the later period, 
remained mostly localized and regional while at the same time the belief 
and rituals surrounding the living dead provided a kind of unity. Gregory 
of Tours could discuss northern Gaul’s practices and saint figures with 
a sense of familiarity because of his experiences in central and southern 
Gaul. Some cults transcended local boundaries and proliferated through 
all the Gallic provinces. Relics of Saint Martin of Tours, for example, 
spread throughout Gaul and attracted cubic practices from many towns 
(this, of course, required some clever stories about his travels and adven- 
tures to account for how his relics ended up in so many different areas). 

Gregory of Tours also suggests that most Franks adored other com- 
mon saintly figures identified in the Scriptures, such as Peter, John the 
Baptist, and Paul. He even boasts of Marian relics, although he is vague in 
identifying exactly what type of relics he owned. Gregory is usually noted 
as the first Western hagiographer to describe Mary’s corporal assumption 
into heaven just before her death, so it is doubtful that he would refer to 
her dead body parts as he might refer to John the Baptist’s head or Saint 
Denis’s arm. 22 He does describe, however, the miracles performed by her 
relics both in Jerusalem and in Gaul. 

When Gregory begins his discussion of various Marian miracles, he 
includes Saint Mary’s church in Jerusalem as a place-relic. He explains 
that the emperor Constantine had commissioned the edifice, but the 
building required supernatural facilitation. According to Gregory, the 
architects and workmen proved unable to move the massive columns 

Holy Women in Context 1 7 

intended for the church’s support. Mary, as a sublime engineer, appeared 
to the architect in a dream and explained how he should construct appro- 
priate pulleys and scaffolding to aid in the job. The next day the architect 
followed Mary’s instructions. He summoned three boys from a nearby 
school (instead of the grown men previously employed), and they raised 
the columns without incident. 23 Gregory establishes Jerusalem as one of 
the first focal points of Marian piety. 

Gregory then explains how many Marian relics found their way into 
Gaul. In one narrative, Johannes, a pious pilgrim, traveled to Jerusalem to 
be healed of his leprosy. While in the Holy Land he received the Virgin’s 
relics and then proceeded home via Rome. On his journey highwaymen 
ambushed him and stole his money and reliquary. After they beat Jo- 
hannes, they discovered that the reliquary contained nothing of value 
(such as gold) and tossed it into a fire. Johannes later retrieved the relics, 
miraculously preserved in their linen cloth, and advanced safely to Gaul 
where the relics continue to work miracles. 24 

Gregory himself boasted of owning Marian relics and carrying them 
in a gold cross (around his neck) along with relics of Saint Martin and the 
holy apostles. These relics, in fact, once saved a poor man’s house from 
burning. Gregory explained, “Lifting the cross from my chest I held it 
up against the fire; soon, in the presence of the holy relics the entire fire 
stopped so [suddenly], as if there had been no blaze.” 25 While the poor 
man’s family had been unable to quench the flames that would consume 
his home, the simple presence of the bishop’s relics brought relief. 

Gregory’s attestation to the presence and power of Marian relics 
not only boosts his own authority, but also the authority of Gaul as a 
locus of religious piety. He introduces Marian miracles at Jerusalem 
and then follows the transmission of her relics to his own land. In this 
way, Gregory is transforming Gaul into a biblical Jerusalem, comparing 
Mary’s miracles and cures in the Holy Land to her current residence in 
Gaul. 26 Instead of traveling to Jerusalem on a holy pilgrimage, the pious 
could simply tour Mary’s relics at Clermont. Gregory proclaims Gaul as 
a spiritual center equal to Jerusalem and the Holy Land, operating freely 
from the constraints of Rome. 27 

Gregory, like his late antique and Merovingian counterparts, trans- 
formed the Virgin Mary — a woman barely mentioned in the Chris- 
tian canon — into a champion of orthodoxy and even prestige. Patristic 

18 Chosen among Women 

authors constructed their evolving Mariology to bolster the church’s 
evolving Christology. Merovingian theologians, bishops, and kings re- 
lied on the saints, including Mary, to warrant their expanding spiritual 
(and political) authority. 

Fatima , the Holy Family , and Shi ite Dynasties 

Just as Christianity transformed the Virgin Mary, Shi"ite hagiographers 
and theologians transformed Fatima into a symbol of orthodoxy and dy- 
nastic mandate. Fatima’s authorization of the Imamate enables the des- 
ignation of those within the shi ' at Aii and the other. As with the Virgin 
Mary also, exposing the exact historical persona of the Prophet’s daugh- 
ter proves elusive. Shf a date their emergence to the moment of Muham- 
mad’s death (632) when some of the community allied themselves with 
Abu Bakr instead of the Prophet’s chosen successor and son-in-law, "Aii, 
Fatima’s husband. 

Historically, "Ali’s party certainly emerged at a specific moment, usu- 
ally identified as 656, when Aii became the fourth caliph. This precipi- 
tated the first civil war in the Islamic community as Aii defended himself 
against his predecessor "Uthman’s kin and those who generally rejected 
his election. Yet those who endorsed "Aii as the community’s leader, and 
subsequently distinguished Fatima as the mother of the Shfite Imams, 
hardly composed a monolithic group. 

The earliest shFat Aii were certainly political; that is, they supported 
"Aii as the community’s leader. After the death of "Aii and his son Hu- 
sayn, however, the party began to assume religious implications. A mem- 
ber of the Kharijites, an early "Alid (pro-"Ali) sect, assassinated "Aii in 661 
because the group disagreed with his arbitration with those who opposed 
him. 28 After "Ali’s death, Mu"awiya ("Uthman’s kinsman) declared him- 
self caliph and ushered in the Umayyad caliphate. "Alids turned first to 
his son Hasan for leadership; Hasan refused to rebel against Mu"awiya’s 
forces and instead retired from public life. 29 After Hasan’s death in 669, 
"Ali’s supporters (and the Umayyad’s opponents) turned to "Ali’s second 
son, Husayn, for guidance. Husayn finally decided to make a public bid 
for power against Mu"awiya’s successor-son, Yazid, after hearing rumors 
of tyranny and receiving pledges of support. 

Holy Women in Context 19 

In 680 pious Muslims in Kufa (present-day Iraq) appealed to Hu- 
sayn to lead their community against the caliph Yazid. Husayn agreed 
after thousands of Kufans professed their loyalty; he set out from Mecca 
to meet them. Before he arrived the caliph tamed any threat of revolt 
through terror tactics and bribery. When Husayn and his party (num- 
bering seventy-two armed men plus women and children, including his 
own family) reached the plain of Karbala outside Kufa, they met a de- 
tachment assembled by "Ubaydullah ibn Ziyad, the commander sent by 
the caliph. 

On the tenth day of Muharram, 680 CE, after several days of siege 
in desert terrain, Husayn and his companions fell to the Umayyad forces. 
Husayn was decapitated and his head returned to Kufa where 'Ubaydul- 
lah publicly struck the lips of the Prophet’s own grandson. Husayn’s 
martyrdom became a central point in Shkite theology representing 
suffering, penance, and redemption: Shkites continue to re-create the 
martyrdom at annual taziya ceremonies, demonstrate repentance for 
deserting Husayn, and finally gain redemption through symbolic partici- 
pation in Husayn’s sufferings. 

After Husayn’s death, leadership of the shi ' at \ Ali became much more 
complex. Alids disagreed over who inherited the Prophet’s son-in-law’s 
position of authority and exactly what type of authority was involved. 
The Shka then began to craft their own kind of orthodoxy wherein Fati- 
ma’s maternity proved particularly important. In the midst of a blatant 
patrilineal system of descent, Shkite theologians uniquely transformed 
Fatima’s motherhood into the cornerstone of the Imamate, the system 
of Shkite authority. The Shkites argued, over time, that Fatima tran- 
scends the importance of her mother, Khadija (the Prophet’s first wife); 
Maryam, the mother of Jesus (or v Isa); and A’isha, the Prophet’s beloved 
wife. They effectively placed Fatima in a singular position as the mother 
of the Imams. 

Unfortunately it is almost impossible to discover the exact historical 
evolution of such traditions and theologies. Some historians date Fatima 
traditions and the importance of her bloodline to the earliest community, 
apparent during the Prophet’s own lifetime (d. 632). A second group situ- 
ates Fatima’s popularity and evolving Shkite identity in the period sur- 
rounding the Abbasid revolution (750) and subsequent consolidation of 
Abbasid authority that usurped the Umayyad caliphate. 30 A third group 

20 Chosen among Women 

of historians describes the proliferation of Fatima traditions as slowly 
evolving throughout the first several centuries of Islam as a rejoinder to 
extremist ( ghuluww ) doctrine. 

The first theory, favored by most pious Shhite Muslims, accepts tra- 
ditions that limit the ahl al-bayt to Fatima’s children (which, in turn, em- 
phasizes Fatima’s unique status) and that allegedly date to the Prophet’s 
own lifetime and certainly to the time of Husayn’s martyrdom (i.e., sev- 
enth century). 31 One such tradition defined Muhammad, AJi, Fatima, 
Hasan, and Husayn as the specific “people of the cloak,” or ahl al-kisa'? 2 

According to the “cloak” hadith, Muhammad met a group of Chris- 
tians at Narjan, a town located on the Yemeni trade route, and attempted 
to convert them. After some debate, the Christians agreed that Jesus 
foretold the Paraclete, or Comforter, whose son would succeed him. 
They agreed that since Muhammad had no son he could not be the ful- 
fillment of such a prophecy. The Christians also consulted a collection 
of prophetic traditions titled al-Jami\ which referred to one of Adam’s 
visions wherein he encountered one bright light surrounded by four 
smaller lights. God revealed to Adam that these were his five beloved 

Although the Christians rejected Muhammad at Narjan, they were 
nonetheless intrigued by his message and later sent a delegation of schol- 
ars to Medina to question the Prophet further and engage in mubahala 
(mutual cursing). 33 When Muhammad arrived, he had AJi, Fatima, 
Hasan, and Husayn with him wrapped in a cloak. The Christians identi- 
fied the family with the prophetic chapter of al-Jami " and quickly with- 
drew from the contest. 

Various ShFite traditions directly relate the people of the cloak to 
the ahl al-bayt and say that Muhammad repeated the Qur’anic verse 
33.33 as he wrapped the holy family in his mantle: “Allah only wishes to 
remove all abomination from you, members of the family, and to make 
you pure and spotless.” This asserts the (eventual) ShPite notion of the 
Imams’ infallibility and ultimate ritual purity. 

The traditions attesting to the holy family’s supremacy encoun- 
tered some resistance. A set of countertraditions, usually transmitted by 
prominent Umayyads, erupted that placed others under the cloak with 
Fatima’s family such as the Prophet’s servant, Wathila b. al-Asqa v , and 
wife, Umm Salama. 34 These traditions denying the exclusivity of the ahl 

Holy Women in Context 2 1 

al-bayt allegedly predate the "Abbasid revolution and at the least recog- 
nize the controversy surrounding the meaning of the ahl al-bayt . This 
challenges, then, the second theory of Fatima tradition that places her 
sublime status (as well as her family’s) as only an Aiid rejoinder to "Ab- 
basid denigrations. 

This second theory, favored by most historians, emphasizes the 
propaganda potential of Fatima imagery when employed by sectarian 
leaders. The early Abbasid movement, so this argument holds, merged 
forces with the Hashimiyyah, a Shi"ite sect originating with Mukhtar 
ibn Abu "Ubayd al-Thaqafi (d. c. 686) as it prepared to usurp the rul- 
ing Umayyad dynasty. Mukhtar had arrived in Kufa around 680, just 
after Husayn’s tragic martyrdom under Caliph Yazid. Mukhtar, acting 
as a prophet of sorts, proclaimed Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyya, Imam 
AJi’s third son by a woman of the Hanifa tribe (and not Fatima) as the 
Mahdi (anointed one). As Mahdi, Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyya would 
restore peace and order to the Kufan community and relieve Umayyad 
oppression. After both Mukhtar and Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyya died, 
a group of supporters called the Kaysaniyya continued their adoration by 
proclaiming that the Mahdi had entered occultation ( ghayba ), a type of 
hiding or sublime stasis, instead of truly dying. 35 

The Kaysaniyya was not a monolithic sect. After Muhammad ibn 
al-Hanafiyya entered occultation, the group split into separate branches. 
One of these branches, the Hashimiyya, taught that Muhammad ibn 
al-Hanafiyya did indeed die after relegating his authority and divine 
knowledge to his son, Abu Hashim. The Abbasids later asserted that 
Abu Hashim conferred his Imamate on Muhammad ibn Ali (the great- 
grandson of al-Abbas, the Prophet’s uncle) and, thereby, the descendants 
of al-Abbas (with no bloodline through Fatima). The Abbasids identified 
themselves with the Hashimiyya and, by association, the “party of "Ali” 
because "Ali was Abu Hashim’s grandfather through the Hanafite woman. 
The Abbasids advanced their revolution by harnessing the discontent of 
the early shi'at 'Ali against the ruling Umayyad dynasty. 

After the Abbasids firmly established their own caliphate, however, 
their propaganda machine disassociated themselves from the Hashimiyya 
and the "Alids (and also persecuted the Shi" a who refused to recognize 
their authority). By al-Mansur’s caliphate (c. 754-775), the Abbasids 
stressed their relation to Muhammad’s uncle al-Abbas instead of their 

22 Chosen among Women 

connection to "Ali and the Banu Hashim. They argued that Allah fa- 
vored the male relative, in this case the paternal uncle, over inheritance 
through a female (implying, of course, Muhammad’s daughter, Fatima). 
Court clerks circulated Mansur’s declarations against the Alids: 

As for your assertion that you are direct descendants of the Prophet, 
God has already declared in His Book, “Muhammad was not the fa- 
ther of any of your men” (3 3.30); but even though you be descended 
from the Prophet’s daughter, which is indeed a close kinship, this 
still does not give you the right of inheritance. 36 

Ali and Fatima’s family, according to the Abbasids, held no esteemed 
position among the community. 

The "Abbasids also questioned the very meaning of the ahl al-bayt 
and its association with "Ali and Fatima’s progeny. Caliph Mahdi (d. 785), 
Mansur’s son, circulated various hadith and poetic verses promulgat- 
ing a distinctively anti- Shi" a interpretation of the people of the cloak. 37 
According to these traditions, the people of the cloak instead included 
Muhammad’s uncle "Abbas and his descendants: 

The Prophet came to Abbas and his sons and said: “Come nearer to 
me.” They all pushed against each other. He then wrapped them in 
his robe and said: “O, Allah, this is my uncle and the brother of my 
father, these are my family; shelter them from the fire in the same 
manner that I shelter them with my robe.” 38 

This understanding of the ahl al-bayt promoted the house of "Abbas 
while challenging the notion of the infallible Imamate as well as Fatima’s 
unique status. 39 

The "Alids responded to these "Abbasid claims, first, by pointing out 
that "Abbas was only Muhammad’s half uncle and that Abu Talib, "Ali’s 
father, was Muhammad’s full uncle. "Ali’s relationship as the Prophet’s 
cousin therefore outweighed any claims of "Abbas. 40 Second, the "Alids 
punctuated their direct descent through Fatima. A proliferation of tradi- 
tions proclaiming the predestined status of Fatima and the ahl al-bayt 
ensued. 41 Historians then might view Fatima hagiographies as the "Alids’ 
political rejoinder to "Abbasid claims of ascendancy. 

Holy Women in Context 2 3 

A third group of historians consider Fatima traditions and the ahl al- 
bayfs glorification as a response to extremist theologies (or ghulat sects) 
within the Shka instead of an overtly political move. 42 Many Aiid schol- 
ars advertised mystical traditions that promoted divinely inspired reason 
(' aql ) instead of logical rationality, the esoteric ( batin ) above the exoteric 
(zahir), and cosmogonic links between the Imams and humanity. 43 Shkite 
theology that evolved during the ninth and tenth centuries represents a 
process of mitigating, negotiating, and eventually integrating some of 
these mystical views. 

The emerging orthodox traditions, for example, define the Imams 
as the divine light ( nur ) and Fatima as the Confluence of the Two Lights 
( majma al-nurayn; i.e., her husband’s and her father’s light). Fatima re- 
sides as the nexus between Muhammad (exoteric knowledge) and AJi 
(esoteric knowledge), where the sublime meets the human. In a sense 
Fatima manages to bridge the great chasm between Allah and humanity 
just as the Christian saints and Mary do; she exists as part of Allah’s light 
(divine nur), yet she is the attending mother, flesh and blood, beckoning 
her extended (and spiritual) family to her care. Fatima traditions dis- 
play Shkite scholars’ careful incorporation of esoteric cosmology in an 
evolving, rational theology. These traditions directly deny some of the 
ghulat ’s more extreme assertions that the Imams themselves (such as the 
sixth Imam, JaTar al-Sadiq) were incarnations of Divinity. 

Whatever the genesis of Fatima traditions, whether in political dis- 
course or in esoteric theology, Fatima remains a signal throughout for 
the orthodox (right) community. Sometimes that might be interpreted 
as the AJid claims against the ALbasids, as the Banu Hashim against 
the Umayyads, and perhaps even the Shkite theologians against extrem- 
ist sects. From a more general perspective, Fatima always symbolizes 
Shkism against the other. Beginning in the late ninth century (and the 
solidification of an Imami orthodoxy, or rightness), Fatima’s image pro- 
vided a powerful proof for theologians as well as future dynastic leaders. 

As Shkite theologians eventually came to recognize AJi and Fatima 
as the Imamate’s progenitors and bestowed spiritual potencies on the 
Imams themselves, they disagreed as to the Imam’s designation process. 
These disagreements continue to distinguish Shkite sects today: many 
Shka recognize five initial Imams (Zaydis); some, seven (Isma'ilis); and 
others, the majority of the Shkite world, twelve ( Ithna-Ashariyya , or 

24 Chosen among Women 

Twelvers). The different groups accepted different descendants of Ali 
and Fatima as Imams. According to Twelver Shfite traditions, the fifth 
and sixth Imams (Muhammad al-Baqir [d. 731] and JaTar al-Sadiq [d. 
765]) addressed the problem by carefully articulating the theory of nass , 
the process by which the current Imam designates his son (the Proph- 
et’s bloodline) and bestows on him 77m (authoritative knowledge). The 
problem lies, however, in which son the community recognizes as having 
received nass. 

By the mid-tenth century, most of these Shfite groups had control 
of substantial geographic regions. The Buyid dynasty (Twelvers) con- 
trolled much of Iraq and Iran, although they allowed the Abbasid caliph 
to reign as a figurehead; the Isma'ilis established the Fatimid dynasty 
in North Africa and founded Cairo; and the Zaydis controlled areas of 
northern Iran and Yemen. 44 By the tenth century there is a true flower- 
ing of Fatima traditions in Shfite theological texts. As Buyids came into 
power, they had to articulate what distinguished them from their Ismahli 
competitors. Zaydi Shf ites explained their unique view of the Imamate: 
the Imam must be descended from AJi and Fatima, but he must also 
make a public claim for power and oppose illegitimate rulers. As Shfite 
dynasties seized leadership throughout the Middle East, Shfite identity 
became increasingly distinct from Sunni Islam. 

Fatima proved important to theologians of all these Shfite group- 
ings because she gave birth to the Imams; through this Mother, the 
Imamate’s authority flowed from husband/AIi and father/Muhammad. 
For the majority of Shfite Muslims (Twelvers), that authority ended 
with the twelfth Imam’s great occulta tion in 941 CE. Until his return at 
the end of time, Shfite clerics and theologians speak in his stead, draw- 
ing on the traditions of the ahl al-hayt and the Imams for guidance. 

Mary and Fatima, as they appear in late antique and early medieval 
sources, must be placed in the historical contexts from which they 
emerge. Theological disputes, dynastic authority, and shifting lines of 
community certainly affected the interpretive tradition that perpetuated 
their legacies. Whether through the writings of patriarchs or bishops, 
Twelvers or Isma'ilis, Mary’s and Fatima’s lives helped to shape histori- 
cal memory and communal identity. Their stories are told most fully not 

Holy Women in Context 2 5 

only in theological tracts and historical chronicles but also in hagiog- 
raphy. Hagiographers fully defined Mary’s and Fatima’s status in their 
respective communities by assessing their miraculous and intercessory 
powers. Comparative hagiography provides a glimpse at the various and 
contrasting ways these male authors refashioned their holy women to fit 
their rhetorical strategies. 

Chapter Two 

Holy Women in Holy Texts 

One of the most important goals of comparative religion is not simply 
to detail historical similarities and differences in religious systems but to 
discover new ways of understanding them . 1 To that end scholars often as- 
sign categories or topical classifications to specific cultural elements, for 
example, ritual, myth, or mysticism . 2 Hagiography and gender also serve 
as comparative categories, although they pose a set of unique problems. 

Employing hagiography as a comparative tool is difficult first and 
foremost because of the debate over how to define this genre, as well as 
use it as source material. Hagiography in its broadest sense is symbolic 
literature that presents the holy (Greek, hagios ) to both popular and 
elite audiences in a variety of forms . 3 Medieval hagiographies were read 
aloud, memorized, proliferated by scholars, and displayed in pictorial 
or symbolic compositions for the illiterate population . 4 In written, oral, 
and visual form, hagiographies praised the virtues and damned the vices 
of heroic persons set forth as didactic exempla; yet these texts reviewed 
the miraculous happenings involving more than just holy people. Hagi- 
ography celebrated sacred locales, architectural structures, and holy ob- 
jects: early Christian hagiographers, for example, popularized Jerusalem 
as a holy site, the Holy Sepulcher as a holy structure, and bits of the true 
cross as holy relics . 5 Jerusalem was not unique in this respect; almost 


28 Chosen among Women 

every Christian town publicized its local saint’s site. Shhite communi- 
ties likewise celebrated the Imams’ lives by recounting their miracles 
and visiting their shrines. 6 Holiness in one form or another permeated 
the learning and the physical landscape of medieval life for both Chris- 
tians and Shhite Muslims. 

As literature intended to depict cultural ideals symbolically, hagiog- 
raphy is a complex genre in terms of both substance and agenda. On the 
surface hagiography appears biographical and descriptive; it speaks of life 
and death, joy and suffering. However, it was not intended primarily to 
preserve and communicate a historical kernel of truth or recount an ob- 
jective chronicle of events. Gregory of Tours opted to name his hagio- 
graphic collection “Life [Vita] of the Fathers” rather than “Lives [Vitae] 
of the Fathers.” Gregory explained that “there is a diversity of merits and 
virtues among [the saints], but the one life of the body sustains them all in 
this world.” 7 In Gregory’s compendium the saints’ differences and distinc- 
tions disappear as he reveals the underlying holiness that unites them all. 

Hagiography is thus fundamentally didactic: it edifies through ex- 
emplary displays of piety and holiness; it promulgates sacred narratives 
and then explains the moral and theological imperatives embedded 
in them; and it models proper modes of ritual and other cubic prac- 
tices. Hagiographic discourse aims to resurrect and then reconstruct 
for its audience examples of holiness or ideal modes of being intended 
for pious imitation. With this functionalist definition of hagiography 
in mind, scholars should expect that any hagiographic tradition would 
be radically determined by the canon of values, beliefs, and authorita- 
tive texts particular to the cultural context from which it emerges. This 
certainly holds true for early Christian and Islamic hagiographic texts, 
which reflect their (sometimes) radically different ideals of the holy. 

Hagiography also includes idealizations of masculine and feminine 
piety that modern readers might find distressingly misogynistic. Liter- 
ate men mostly constructed these gender paradigms as very few texts 
by women exist. These male-authored texts provide the only substan- 
tive view of women (and expectations of women) in early Christian and 
Shhite religious communities. By using gender as a point of comparison, 
it becomes clear that theologians and hagiographers in both traditions 
limit holy women’s miraculous actions and proscribe holy women’s mi- 
raculous bodies to the domestic sphere. 

Holy Women in Holy Texts 29 

Medieval and Modem Audiences : Christianity 

Late antique and early medieval Christian hagiographers transformed 
their saintly characters and sacred landscapes in accordance with Greco- 
Roman and biblical formulas. 8 Some of the most influential early Chris- 
tian hagiographies sprang from Syria and Egypt during the fourth and 
fifth centuries. 9 These texts applauded the efforts of holy men and 
women who surrendered mundane existence for a higher, angelic life. 
The era of Christian martyrs had all but ended as Roman emperors le- 
galized Christianity throughout the empire. As martyrs became increas- 
ingly unnecessary, ascetics supplied another model of Christian heroism: 
they mortified their bodies and sought to transcend the problems of the 
flesh as they struggled against their spiritual enemy, Satan, and his de- 
monic forces. 10 

Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria (d. 373) constructed one of the most 
important Christian hagiographies in his Life of Anthony, an Egyptian re- 
cluse who haunted nearby deserts and caves. 11 Athanasius describes a vi- 
carious martyr, guarding the periphery of human existence against evil 
while struggling against his interior lusts and desires. In the end Anthony 
provides his audience with a new Christ figure who prays in the desert, 
casts out demons, heals the sick, and raises the dead. 12 Anthony’s hagiog- 
rapher produces a hero-hermit much like the biblical Elijah, reconstructed 
in the fourth century, intended to model the miracles and grace of Christ. 
Indeed, one of the greatest signs of sanctity was imitatio Christi (the imita- 
tion of Christ) wherein holy men and women performed Christ’s miracles 
after symbolically sharing in his suffering by means of ascetic feats. 

As Christianity expanded from the Syrian and Greek East to the 
Gallo-Roman/Latin West, hagiographers encountered a new audience. 13 
It proved difficult if not impossible to transform urban Gaul into a physi- 
cal wasteland of caves and demon-inhabited deserts. Western hagiogra- 
phers thus created a spiritual desert and challenged the Roman elite and 
Mediterranean nobility to convert to Christianity and to live as Christ 
through renunciation of wealth and status. Women proved particularly 
important in this newly imagined desert as the viable patrons of the 
church who gladly distributed their Roman patrimony among ecclesias- 
tical authorities. 14 Hagiographers in Gaul expressed innovative ideals of 
holiness for a new constituency of sinners. 

30 Chosen among Women 

The fourth-century author Sulpicius Severus created perhaps the 
most influential hagiography in early medieval Gaul. His Life of Martin 
of Tours transformed a Roman soldier known for his valor into an Old 
Testament prophet, traveling and preaching throughout Gaul, who only 
reluctantly accepted the bishop’s office of Tours. 15 Martin’s life became 
the hallmark of Western hagiography: the loyal Roman citizen forsakes 
his mundane wealth to serve his heavenly king. Martin, in typical fashion, 
healed the sick, exorcised the demon possessed, and practiced profound 
charity and kindness. At the same time, he assumed the bishop’s mantle 
and dutifully acknowledged the church’s authority. The hagiographer 
modified his wandering holy man at first reminiscent of the eastern An- 
thony into a stable bishop ever mindful of his parish and his flock. A 
pious Christian but also a good Roman, Martin embodied the ideals of 
hierarchy and structure. 16 

Merovingian hagiographers inherited the model of Martin and ef- 
fectively blended their new bishops with this very Roman ideal: Frank- 
ish clergy promoted order and hierarchy within both church and state. 
Merovingian hagiographers were aware also of the saint cults that pro- 
liferated throughout Gaul as they addressed popular audiences who in- 
creasingly committed themselves to local saints, both living and dead. 
Merovingian hagiography thus served a pastoral purpose, aimed directly 
at teaching and educating a general constituency about the developing 
protocols for the veneration of saints. 

Linguists in particular first recognized the pastoral function of 
Merovingian texts by their distinctive Latin vocabulary: the language is 
both colloquial and active. 17 Merovingian hagiographers focused on how 
to venerate local holy figures and what miraculous results might be ex- 
pected. They provided models instructing pious petitioners to gather rem- 
nants from the cells of saints such as ash, candle wax, or oil; through these 
contact relics, miraculous healing followed and the saints’ fame spread. 18 
These instructive texts compare dramatically with the later Carolingian 
hagiographies intended for monastic use; Carolingian Latin indicates more 
interior action such as meditation and prayer. 19 In contrast, Merovingian 
hagiography speaks to a nonmonastic audience, defining innovative no- 
tions of holiness associated with the spread of saint veneration. 

There is considerable disagreement among modern scholars of medi- 
eval Christianity as to what to do with hagiography as a source. European 

Holy Women in Holy Texts 3 1 

intellectuals generally scoffed at Christian hagiographic sources during 
the Enlightenment period. Scholars of the ancient world such as David 
Hume and Edward Gibbon dismissed hagiography as an irrational litera- 
ture confined to the lower classes that recounted fanciful miracle stories 
and fantastic displays of a misnamed polytheism. 20 Beginning only in the 
1930s, scholars and theologians began to mine hagiography for details 
about life, society, and intellectual history. Hippolyte Delehaye and the 
Bollandists, a group of Jesuit priests dedicated to recovering and catego- 
rizing hagiographies, led this movement, although much of their work 
still attempted to separate the factual from the spurious, the believable 
from the unbelievable. 21 

During the past two decades, hagiologers have generally disregarded 
the fact or fiction debate and gleaned information about cultural milieus 
and gender roles from holy texts. 22 Most scholars now agree that hagiog- 
raphy was not just a literature intended for a lay, mostly illiterate popu- 
lation; instead, wealthy and poor audiences alike shared a hagiographic 
corpus that greatly defined their experiences. This literature provided 
the system of cultural symbols that united western Christendom. 

Medieval and Modern Audiences: Islam 

Early Shkite hagiography reveals an equally dynamic symbolic system at 
least during the late eighth and ninth century. Shkite notions of power 
and authority increasingly considered Ali and Fatima’s descendants 
Imams responsible for their community’s spiritual guidance. Hagiogra- 
phies explained the Imams’ miraculous births, their infallible lives, and 
their sublime wisdom. These models of holiness inspired ritual activities 
surrounding the Imams’ tombs and shrines. Shkite hagiographers, for 
example, encouraged devotees to visit holy places on pilgrimages (zi- 
yard)P Most Shkites turned their attention to the shrine of Husayn, Ali 
and Fatima’s son who died a martyr’s death at Karbala. Husayn’s body 
was interred at Karbala, but tradition also placed his head at Karbala, 
Damascus, Najaf, and Cairo. 24 All these locales remain important pil- 
grimage sites where Shkites venerate their third Imam. 

Locating the mainstream notion of sanctity is more difficult in Islam 
than in early Christianity. Many Muslim theologians avoid the elevated 

32 Chosen among Women 

designation of sainthood, stressing instead that every individual main- 
tains direct access to Allah, thus disallowing the need for a saintly inter- 
cessor. 25 Qur’an 39.44 declares, “To Allah belongs exclusively the right 
to grant intercession. To Him belongs the dominion of the heavens and 
the earth: in the end, it is to Him that you shall be brought back.” Thus 
in Islam no centralized clergy propagates and authorizes a genre of lit- 
erature akin to Christianity’s saints’ lives. Saintly canonization is almost 
completely within the province of hagiographers and reader response to 
their products (both oral and written). 

Medieval Muslims nonetheless maintained a definite notion of holi- 
ness ( wilaya ) and disseminated those sacred ideals through their own, 
distinct forms of hagiography. These sacred collections included biogra- 
phies of the Prophet, battlefield accounts, or, for Shkites, descriptions of 
the Imams and their miraculous powers. The earliest known biography 
of the Prophet, for example, resembled early Christian tales of desert 
saints. 26 Bedouin tribes on the edges of the Arabian peninsula certainly 
were familiar with Christian veneration of desert holy men and their 
miracles: historical records indicate that they shared the same deserts 
and caves as Christian hermits, witnessed their fame, and heard about 
their miraculous powers. The Prophet’s biographer cast him as a func- 
tioning holy man to his community: Muhammad healed the sick, pro- 
vided righteous judgments, and multiplied food. 27 Many of the Prophet’s 
friends and family described in the biographical materials also served as 
pious models intended for emulation and edification. 

While Muslim hagiography might vary in intent and audience — for 
example, some collections, qisas al-anbiya, or “Tales of the Prophets,” fea- 
tured miracle stories of the same prophets shared by Jews, Christians, and 
Muslims — most of it has the same format. Accounts of holiness are usually 
recorded as hadith, one of two genres of sacred texts in Islam, the other 
being the Qur’an. 

Like Christianity, Islam is a religion of the book and reveres a sa- 
cred and revealed scripture. The Qur’an confers the direct revelation of 
Allah through his final messenger, Muhammad. The holy text describes 
humanity’s virtues and vices, directs the actions of the community 
( umma ), and offers a glimpse of an impending apocalypse. 28 It also pre- 
sents a series of prophets and holy men and women for pious Muslims 
to imitate. 29 

Holy Women in Holy Texts 3 3 

The hadith collections advance their own notions of holiness. Ha- 
dith (used here as a collective noun; the proper plural is ahadith) are 
traditions that relate back to the Prophet Muhammad’s own lifetime, de- 
scribing his actions and utterances as well as those of his friends, family, 
and other contemporaries. 30 The hadith literature functions as hagiogra- 
phy when read as a means of resurrecting a pristine past and endowing 
Muslims with models of holiness and virtue. Read in this way, hadith 
literature allows scholars and others to eavesdrop on the earliest Mus- 
lim community: the Prophet’s lifestyle and the faithfulness of his friends 
and family (and the perfidy of his enemies), and directives and patterns 
outside the Qur’anic framework. Taken together the Qur’an and hadith 
(the “trodden path,” or sunna\ provide models for emulation; scholarly 
exegesis (tafsir) then attempts to explain and contextualize the sunna so 
that pious Muslims may follow them. 

Islamicists approach hadith literature as carefully as medievalists 
approach Christian hagiography, and this is not a recent methodologi- 
cal problem. Medieval Muslims themselves devoted an entire science to 
proving or disproving hadith authenticity. To do this they focused most 
strenuously on the chain of transmitters, or isnad. The hadith consists 
of two parts: the tradition itself ( matn ) and a detailed list of individu- 
als who observed or transmitted the Prophet’s advice or actions (isnad). 
Scholars and linguists identified the transmitters, reconciled their death 
dates with times of transmission, and located the hadith in an elaborate 
spectrum of categories ranging from sound (sahih) to weak (« da'if ), from 
precious Qaziz) to forged (mawdu). 

Medieval hadith collections contributed more than personal models 
of piety and words of wisdom from the Prophet. The central role of ha- 
dith was to lay the foundation of Islamic law: Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) 
carefully reasoned what was obligatory ( fard ), recommended (: mandub ), 
neutral (: mubah ), reprehensible ( makruh ), and forbidden {bar am). By the 
late ninth and early tenth century, Islamic scholars generally accepted as 
canonical the six rigorously scrutinized compendia composed by separate 
hadith critics: al-Bukhari, Muslim, Ibn Da’ud, al-Tirmidhi, al-Nisa’i, and 
Ibn Hanbal. Other scholars compiled their own hadith collections, but 
these six became the pillars of Sunni piety and law. 

Shf ite Muslims, on the other hand, esteem additional hadith collec- 
tions as authoritative. 31 The ShPites value above all the traditions that 

34 Chosen among Women 

relate back to the Prophet’s family. For Twelver Shi'ites, this includes the 
twelve Imams, among them "Ali himself. Since the Shi'a regarded 'Ali and 
the Imams as Muhammad’s rightful successors, they gathered accounts of 
the Imams’ deeds and sayings for both political and spiritual guidance. 32 
Shf ites maintain that v Ali and Fatima’s descendants, beginning with their 
sons Hasan and Husayn, became the sources of true spiritual sustenance 
to the Islamic community. According to one tradition, Husayn (quoted by 
JaTar al-Sadiq, the sixth Imam) proclaimed: 

“God created His servants solely that they might know Him, for 
when they know Him they worship Him and thus free themselves 
from the worship of anything that is not Him.” Someone then asked: 
“What is knowledge of God?” “It is, for the people of each age, 
knowledge of the Imam to whom they owe obeisance.” 33 

For Shkites recognition of and dependence on the Imams equaled 
knowledge of God himself. It was irrelevant if the ruling Umayyad or 
Ahbasid dynasty acknowledged the Imams as the community’s rightful 
leaders. Allah required the Shi v a itself to identify the Imam and maintain 
his sublime teachings through its collective memories and records. 

Many ShFite hadith collections function, therefore, as a form of po- 
litical and spiritual rhetoric explaining the cosmological link between 
the Prophet’s beloved family and the community. 34 These hadith dem- 
onstrate the Shi'a’s sublime authority in heaven even if it is not always 
recognized on earth. 35 They also offer adoptive membership into the ahl 
al-bayt for those who recognize the Imam’s authority. The hadith func- 
tion as hagiography because they outline a mode of holiness (acceptance 
into the family), reveal moral and theological imperatives (allegiance to 
the family), and supply holy models to imitate (the prophets, Imams, 
and early community members). Like Merovingian hagiography, hadith 
reconstruct a sacred past in their own dynamically changing context to 
promote a new identity, namely, the identification of the Imams and an 
evolving ShFism as it distinguished itself from Sunni Islam. 

As in Christian hagiography, there exist equally contentious debates 
about how to use hadith as hagiography. Many Muslims view the Prophet 
Muhammad with esteem and adoration and therefore strive to achieve 
a real view of him and his community. Hadith accepted as authentic are 

Holy Women in Holy Texts 3 5 

windows into that reality and afford a genuine depiction of the Prophet. 
Many Muslim scholars maintain the historicity of hadith transmission 
and argue that the earliest community assured hadith veracity. These 
scholars admit that hadith evolved from an oral to a written genre, but 
they also insist that skilled, literate scholars held the transmissions to 
high standards of authentication. 36 

The question of veracity has plagued non-Muslim and secular schol- 
ars as well. Since the early twentieth century some Islamicists have recog- 
nized that formally written hadith compilations only circulated in the late 
eighth century. They have argued that these hadith reveal more about 
eighth-century life than about Muhammad’s own community. 37 This 
approach fundamentally questions the hadith’s reliability as a historical 
source for the earliest Islamic period; and, for Muslims, this critique chal- 
lenges hadith as an authoritative source of sublime direction and models 
of piety. Other Islamicists have forged a middle ground: hadith reflect 
the Prophet’s own lifetime, but the standardized method of transmission 
and compilation must be dated much later. According to this argument, it 
remains impossible to demonstrate absolutely the hadith’s historicity. 38 

I avoid the question of hadith veracity altogether; instead of expect- 
ing the hadith to betray an objective historical reality, I see them as re- 
vealing important cultural symbols and notions of holiness relevant to 
their medieval audiences. 39 If hadith were deemed important enough to 
copy, memorize, and scrutinize, then they must disclose valuable clues 
about the community that treasured them. Even the more obscure, 
“weak” hadith that “sound” compendia often fail to include are impor- 
tant; they help to recapture the evolutionary nature of Muslim identity 
by revealing the developing hagiographic tradition. As in Christianity, 
theology and religious identity evolved over the centuries as leaders, 
theologians, and scholars formulated and answered questions important 
for their nascent communities. Even those hadith that were later rejected 
or considered spurious by Shfite scholars reflect the stages of that evolu- 
tionary process. 

Classical ShPite sources are especially difficult to date and ascribe to 
specific compilers. Although the hadith format provides lists of transmit- 
ters, the editors themselves sometimes evade designation. Some extant 
compendia do give the names of editor and author, such as the tenth- 
century Kitab al-Irshad (Book of Guidance into the Lives of the Twelve 

36 Chosen among Women 

Imams) by Shaykh al-Mufid. Other hadith survive only in later compila- 
tions such as that of the seventeenth-century Safavid scholar Muhammad 
Baqir al-Majlisi, Bihar al-anwar (Sea of Lights). Although this collection 
is rather late, it is indispensable to scholars of ShPite Islam. 

With the help of scholars such as al-Majlisi, the seventeenth-century 
Safavids of Persia launched a prolific religious campaign against Sunni 
and Sufi piety. 40 Al-Majlisi’s job as a member of the 'ulama' was to collect 
and distribute hadith that illustrated ShPite identity and the holy family’s 
election since before created time. He intended his collections to serve as 
a type of propaganda, popularizing a legalistic form of Twelver ShPism 
while disavowing Sunnism and some Sufi orders. He was the first scholar 
to translate a large number of hadith collections, theologies, and histo- 
ries into Persian for greater availability to a general audience. 

Al-Majlisi’s collection is important for another reason: it includes 
both the widely accepted, sound hadith and the potentially spurious (or 
weak) traditions. For example, al-Majlisi repeated many of the earliest 
ShPite sources from al-Kulayni and Ibn Babawayh, renowned tenth- 
century ShPite scholars, 41 some of which are extant only through his en- 
cyclopedic collection. But he also chose hadith that were not included in 
ordinary compilations of ShPite texts. Because of this broad inclusiveness, 
some scholars doubt its historical veracity. (One colleague referred to the 
Bihar al-anwar as the “great trash heap of ShPite traditions.”) 42 Because 
al-Majlisi cast such a wide net in collecting his hadith, he provides schol- 
ars with an opportunity to view ShPism as it developed and blossomed 
throughout the classical and medieval periods. 

Al-Majlisi quite naturally focused on the Prophet’s family and par- 
ticularly his daughter Fatima to prove ShPite Islam’s superiority over 
Sunnism and Sufism. The traditions range from those of the most mysti- 
cal bent (which define the holy family in terms of pure light with abso- 
lute knowledge) 43 to those of more practical application (which define 
the twelfth Imam as the source of all spiritual authority). 

This grand collection of hadith also certainly added authority to al- 
Majlisi’s own position. According to Twelver doctrine, the twelfth Imam, 
Muhammad al-Mahdi, did not die but went into a sublime hiding, or oc- 
culta tion. During this period of hiddenness, the ShPite community relies 
on the scholars to discern the Imam’s justice. Al-Majlisi was just such a 
scholar who implicitly designated himself as one of the twelfth Imam’s 

Holy Women in Holy Texts 3 7 

spokesmen until the final, apocalyptic return. Through his hadith com- 
pilations, al-Majlisi justified his own political station while constructing 
a hagiographic edifice praising the holy family’s spiritual status. 44 

Sources and Gender 

As Merovingian Christians and Shifite Muslims sought to make sense of 
their world and to delineate their place in it, they devised and articulated 
dynamic notions of holiness. For the people of Gaul, the changes in their 
world involved the political transition from late Roman to Merovingian 
rule and the spiritual acculturation to a new, unifying Christendom. 
Shifite communities, in many cases bereft of political ascendancy because 
of a Sunni majority (except for a brief interim in the mid-tenth century), 
articulated their unique cosmology and loyalties to the Imam and the 
holy family. In both these cases, discussions of sanctity in hagiographic 
sources betray both theological and political agendas. On closer exami- 
nation it becomes clear that gender expectations and the introduction of 
feminine ideals signaled radical changes in society as well. Both Chris- 
tian and Muslim cultures supported and preserved the literary products 
of a male elite, which constructed paradigms of community and holiness 
via women, in particular Mary and Fatima. 

Most extant Christian texts from late antiquity originate from the 
ecclesiastical sphere. Theologians such as Ambrose, Augustine, and Je- 
rome charted the twists and turns Christian theology would take in terms 
of asceticism, ideals of marriage, the Trinitarian debate, and the path of 
Christ’s church (i ecclesia ). 45 Late antique authors both reflected and refuted 
beliefs about the Virgin Mary popularized by anonymous, apocryphal 
texts. They absorbed, for example, the precept of Mary’s perpetual vir- 
ginity (both before, during, and after Christ’s birth), yet some cautioned 
against Mary’s Immaculate Conception, or birth free from sin. 46 Marian 
theology, and Christian theology in general, was only slowly evolving. 

The early Middle Ages yield a wider variety of sources, although 
most still come from the ecclesiastical sphere: church councils left rec- 
ords of decisions and debate; bishops wrote histories of their bishoprics 
(which were more like family trees); priests and popes wrote hagiog- 
raphies; 47 and holy men crafted monastic rules for female religious to 

38 Chosen among Women 

follow. One of the most prolific authors of Merovingian Gaul was Greg- 
ory of Tours; he provided a veritable who’s who among Merovingian 
bishops in his Ten Books of History and numerous hagiographies of male 
and female saints. 48 In early Christian hagiography, few texts written by 
women survive, and only one of those has a self-identified female author 
(Baudonivia, who wrote her saint’s life only to complement an earlier 
redaction by a man, Fortunatus). 49 Scholars suspect other works might 
be written by women, especially nuns who had firsthand knowledge of 
their saint-abbesses. 50 In most cases male clergy wrote about women. 

A similar case arises in classical Islam. Women may have lent consid- 
erable time, faith, and even wealth to their respective traditions, but they 
remained largely silent in the sources. Muslim women’s social expecta- 
tions depended largely on the geographic locale and ruling elite; yet in 
most cases women played a sizable role in the establishment of schools 
and the transmission of knowledge. Like female patrons of Christianity, 
wealthy wives and mothers commissioned schools and donated land for 
educational institutions, and with those same sources of wealth, many 
women acquired personal tutors and received competitive educations. 51 
Also as with Christianity, tradition largely circumscribed women’s prac- 
tical role in the public classroom as teachers or students; modes of for- 
mal education, including Qur’anic studies, remained confined to males. 52 
Any formal training or introduction to Islamic jurisprudence and hadith 
studies also remained a mostly masculine domain. 

Although Muslim scholars restricted women from formal educa- 
tions, they did not release them from the burden of learning and study- 
ing the hadith and models of holiness. Theoretically, women bore the 
same responsibility as men to understand and follow Islamic teaching. 
Hadith scholars even recognized several women of the early commu- 
nity as worthy transmitters. Many of these women, such as 'A’isha, the 
Prophet’s youngest wife, lived with Muhammad and had intimate deal- 
ings with him. These women like none other could transmit information 
about the Prophet’s actions, words, and directives because of their as- 
sociation in the domestic sphere. 53 Women’s official roles largely ended 
in the domestic sphere, however; while many women acted as hadith 
transmitters, there are no extant compilations by female scholars and no 
information about them. Thus our medieval sources are once again writ- 
ten by men about women. 

Holy Women in Holy Texts 3 9 

In these male-authored medieval texts about women, gender, and 
holiness, hagiographers and theologians transformed Mary and Fatima 
into champions for their pious agenda. Mary marked the boundaries be- 
tween Christianity and heresy; Fatima led her family to paradise and 
consigned her enemies to hell. Both communities fashioned a view of 
piety, politics, and family by manipulating traditional gender roles while 
still assigning their heroines to the domestic sphere as miraculous moth- 
ers and virgins. Today’s readers might be tempted to dismiss much of 
the hagiographers’ works as too proscriptive if not blatantly misogynis- 
tic, but closer examination reveals a more complex agenda. 

Chapter Three 

Virgins and Wombs 

In her work Purity and Danger , the anthropologist Mary Douglas ex- 
plains that concerns for the physical body — its intactness, purity, and 
integrity — reflect concerns held by the body politic . 1 Douglas sees pu- 
rity and pollution rituals relating to the body as symbols for society and 
social boundaries. The Israelites’ halakhic (legal) preoccupation with 
bodily issues and orifices, for example, ultimately reveals their political 
and cultural apprehension about unity and security as a minority group . 2 
In effect, legalistic obsessions with menstruation and ejaculation might 
tell the historian more about how Jews distinguished themselves from 
their Gentile neighbors than about how they viewed women’s and men’s 

Gender historians of early Christianity have recently expanded 
Douglas’s approach to reevaluate the early church fathers’ admonitions 
against the female form. From this perspective, patristic texts and hagiog- 
raphy offer more than misogynistic ranting against the female body and 
instead identify a late antique body metaphor concerned for the social 
and political boundaries of a newly converted Roman Empire . 3 These 
writings rely particularly on the idealized virgin — disciplined through 
asceticism, sustained in chastity, and purified by God — to signify the or- 
thodox, undefiled, and intact Christian church. 


42 Chosen among Women 

A similar body metaphor emphasizing purity instead of integrity 
evolved in Shkite Islam regarding Muhammad’s prophetic status and 
the Imams’ religious authority. 4 Some traditions explain that Allah 
formed the Prophet as pure light before he created time. This light is 
referred to as the nur Muhammad, which is the essence of the Prophet’s 
being. With the light {nur) Allah engraved Muhammad’s name on his 
throne. 5 The nur symbolizes Muhammad’s favored status among the 
other prophets and his commission to transform a dark and corrupt 
world with Islam’s radiance. After the creation of the heavens, earth, 
and humanity, Allah removed the light from his throne and translated 
it through the Prophet’s ordained ancestry until it finally reached Mu- 
hammad’s mother, Amina. During this conveyance, Allah carefully pre- 
served the nur through a special covenant requiring all males to place 
the light only within the wombs of pure females. This provision was 
necessary because a woman’s body might provide either an immaculate 
vessel for the light’s containment and gestation or a ritual contagion if 
unclean, tainted, or impure. 6 

As Adam prepared to transmit the nur Muhammad to Eve, for ex- 
ample, he required her to perform ritual ablutions before sexual inter- 
course. When Eve finally conceived Seth, the light moved safely from 
Adam’s loins to Eve’s womb without contagion. 7 Adam later explained 
the responsibilities of the unique covenant to his son: 

Allah has ordered me to impose on you a covenant and a compact for 
the sake of the light on your face, to the effect that you shall deposit 
it only within the purest woman of all mankind. Let it be known to 
you that Allah has put upon me a rigid covenant concerning it. 8 

Allah commanded Muhammad’s male ancestors to protect the divine 
light from the female body’s potential threat. 

Shkite sources employ the body metaphor to emphasize the trans- 
mission not only of the nur Muhammad but also of the preexistent 
Imams. 9 According to classical hadith esteemed by Twelvers, Allah cre- 
ated Muhammad, Fatima, and the twelve Imams as divine light and en- 
graved all their names on his throne. Each light assumed corporal form 
only after miraculous conception, gestation, and birth free from ritual 
pollutants such as blood. 

Virgins and Wombs 43 

Fatima, as the only female sharing in the holy family’s divine light, 
transcends mundane limitations ascribed to the female form: she neither 
menstruated nor experienced blood loss during childbirth. Fatima was 
born and continued to exist without impurities or pollution and, unlike 
Eve, presented the ever-immaculate vessel for the Imamate. Fatima’s body, 
like Christianity’s idealized virgin, presents a metaphor imbued with sym- 
bolic formulations of theological, political, and communal purity. While 
the virgin symbolized the church — immaculate, pure, and intact — Fatima 
signifies pristine Islam and the Shkite Imams’ sublime status. 

Although male authors translated Mary’s and Fatima’s virginal bod- 
ies into metaphors for communal identity and purity, these metaphors did 
not remain static. Hagiographers instead merged conflicting descriptions 
of purity and integrity with fecundity and creativity. The virgin’s physical 
chastity ultimately led to spiritual fertility. Hagiographers revealed such 
dynamism by describing the virginal body and womb as a container, at 
once sealed from worldly contamination while prolific in spiritual works. 

The womb itself is a multivalent symbol in sacred literature: it is the 
source of pollution and purity, chaos and order, darkness and light. 10 As 
the innermost female space, the womb pollutes through menstrual con- 
tamination, 11 yet can mediate sacrality as the inner sanctum of a cultic 
shrine (as in Christianity) or a domestic sphere (as in Islam). Because 
female reproductive space is occupied in sex and pregnancy, it is both 
honored and feared: it can contain new life, but, as an empty place, it 
might also be filled by malevolent forces. 12 

Ethnographers of traditional Islamic societies have also noted the 
symbolic relationship between the home and the womb. In traditional 
households women’s quarters are at the back of the complex and mas- 
culine space is near the front courtyard. The female space, or secluded 
interior, can be called the batn , “inside, womb.” Entry into this space 
proceeds through the khashm , or door, which also designates bodily ori- 
fices such as the mouth and nose. 13 

The womb symbolizes a sacred space, a sacred interior separated 
from the profane exterior. As an empty space, the womb invites penetra- 
tion or occupation. In the ancient Greek context, for example, divinities 
bestowed the gift of prophecy on women by possessing their innermost 
spaces. 14 The female interior signified the potential for divine inspira- 
tion and presence within the community. Since unwelcome divinities, 

44 Chosen among Women 

or daemons , associated with darkness and obscurity might dwell within 
the womb, female possession also conveyed potential threat. 15 Women 
(and their communities) might then benefit from divine favor or suffer 
from the potential chaos that lies within the female interior. Mary and 
Fatima provided such enigmatic figures for their own communities: vir- 
ginal containers free from contamination, yet fecund with holiness. 

Blessed Virgin Mary 

Christian hagiographers fashioned their idealized virgin by transmuting 
Mary’s mundane form into an extraordinary body. Mary’s virginal flesh 
defied common laws of physicality and sexuality: Mary remained a virgin 
even after childbirth. Christian authors constructed this Marian icon as 
part of a complex ascetic theology that promoted the virgin’s body as one 
symbolically transformed into the image of the resurrected Christ. Such 
a body trained through asceticism gains a glimpse of the spiritual form 
modeled by Christ and promised by the apostle Paul (1 Cor. 15.47-51). 

The early Christian emphasis on self-abnegation and chastity func- 
tioned, at first, to distinguish the new community from its Jewish ori- 
gins. The Jews celebrated sexuality and procreation as divine blessings 
from God; indeed, the Abrahamic covenant promised the patriarch off- 
spring as numerous as the stars in the sky (Gen. 15.5). The covenant, as 
outlined by the Torah, demanded that the Jews worship Yahweh exclu- 
sively. In return, they were offered a promised land abounding in spiri- 
tual and material blessings. God pledged: “You [Israel] shall be the most 
blessed of peoples, with neither sterility nor barrenness among you or 
your livestock” (Deut. 7. 14). 16 

The Christian canon diverges from the Judaic acclamation of pro- 
creation and family. Jesus (himself understood to be unmarried and celi- 
bate) promotes devotion to the “kingdom of heaven” wherein spiritual 
kinship supersedes physical consanguinity. In Mark 3.33-35, Jesus an- 
nounces that “[w]hoever does the will of God is my brother and sister 
and mother,” not his mundane relatives then summoning him at the 
door. Jesus even suggests that celibacy surpasses marriage in spiritual 
perfection: “but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age 

Virgins and Wombs 45 

and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in 
marriage” (Luke 20.3d— 36; also, Luke 20.29). 

The Pauline epistles expand this virginal ideal by emphasizing the 
practicality of celibate life. Virgins, as Paul explains, simply have more 
time to devote to spiritual endeavors (1 Cor. 7). Paul wishes that “all 
were as I myself am [i.e., celibate]” (1 Cor. 7.7), although he carefully 
acknowledges that marriage does not constitute sin. Marriage instead 
signifies the spiritual relationship between Christ and his church: “Hus- 
bands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself 
up for her” (Eph. 5.25). In a further correlation between the Christian 
household and the ecclesia , Paul commands wives to submit themselves 
to their husbands just as the church submits to Christ. Women within 
the marital bond thus represent a gendered image of the Christian com- 
munity: submissive, domesticated, and redeemed by the salvific acts of 
the male “householder,” Christ. 

The second- and third-century church inherited from the Gos- 
pels and Pauline epistles this paradoxical view of virginity and sexuality 
wherein marriage is censured yet endorsed, criticized yet commended. 17 
The early church promoted an equally complex ascetic theology: wildly 
popular narratives celebrated pious celibacy while theologians such as 
Clement of Alexandria (d. 215) called for moderation. 

Soon after Paul’s death (c. 150 CE), a number of apocryphal texts 
exclaiming the benefits of sexual renunciation circulated throughout the 
Christian world. The Acts of Paul and Thecla , perhaps the most prevalent, 
recounted the adventures of a young virgin named Thecla who, after 
hearing the melodious voice of the blessed Paul, renounced her fiance 
and devoted herself to perpetual chastity. 18 For a time, Thecla provided a 
more popular virginal image than Mary herself. Thecla actuated her new 
vocation by cutting her hair, dressing as a man, and following after the 

While this lifestyle certainly afforded Thecla more freedom to 
travel and even preach in the ancient world, the vita nonetheless sub- 
ordinates the young virgin to the male apostle. Thecla appears as an 
amorous groupie who obsessively pursues her famous teacher; and after 
Paul finally commissions her to teach in Iconium, she secludes herself in 
a cave for seventy- two years sustained only by water and herbs. The vita 

46 Chosen among Women 

popularized the notion of pious chastity while still relegating the female 
virgin to masculine supervision. Church fathers praised Thecla’s as- 
tounding asceticism while encouraging other women (especially wealthy 
matrons) to become “new Theclas” and devote themselves, spiritually 
and financially, to the church. 

Clement of Alexandria, on the other hand, proposed a broader un- 
derstanding of sexuality and the body. He argued that Paul endorsed both 
marriage and celibacy equally and that fervent ascetics falsely exaggerated 
the rewards of virginity. Marriage represented the divinely ordained plan 
for procreation, although Adam and Eve, like two impatient adolescents, 
had originally rushed consummation. Because of their sexual enthusiasm, 
humanity inherited the desire and lust that sullies the sacred intent of the 
marital bond. Clement writes: 

A man who marries for the sake of begetting children must prac- 
tice continence so that it is not desire he feels for his wife, whom 
he ought to love, and that he may beget children with a chaste and 
controlled will. For we have learnt not to “have thought for the flesh 
to fulfil its desires.” We are to “walk honourably as in the way,” that 
is in Christ and in the enlightened conduct of the Lord’s way, “not 
in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and lasciviousness, 
not in strife and envy.” 19 

Married couples, Clement says, might practice sexual intercourse with- 
out guilt as long as they hold their desires in check. 

Although even the more liberal fathers such as Clement sanction 
marriage, they share a general distrust of and profound ambivalence to- 
ward sexuality and the lustful body. Both Clement and Irenaeus of Lyons 
(c. 200) equate Adam and Eve’s first sin not only with disobedience but 
also with the acquisition of carnal knowledge. 20 After Satan successfully 
tempted Eve and she shared the forbidden fruit with Adam, “the eyes 
of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they 
sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves” (Gen. 
3.7). Christian theologians easily assimilated sexual astuteness with the 
shame and disgrace of the Fall. Celibacy, on the other hand, negated the 
sinful scar manifest in the flesh and returned humanity to prelapsarian 
existence, untainted by passion and lust. 

Virgins and Wombs 47 

In the third- and fourth-century ascetic movement, desert anchorites 
exchanged their physical bodies for a new spiritual existence in an effort 
to gain such a prelapsarian form. Athanasius advanced this theme ( topos ) 
in his Life of Anthony, the sublime prototype for Western hagiography. 
Athanasius blends Old Testament images of desert asceticism with New 
Testament accounts of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. 21 Antony 
at once becomes the new Elijah who found divine solace and preservation 
in the wilderness (1 Kings 19.4-8) and the image of Christ’s resurrected 
body. After immuring himself in a tomb and combating his demons, 
Antony appears to his disciples transformed into a spiritual being. 22 He 
served as a visible icon of Paul’s promise: “It is sown a physical body, it is 
raised a spiritual body” (1 Cor. 1 5.44). Antony and like-minded ascetics of 
the Egyptian and Syrian desert reclaim their paradisiacal form, released 
from fleshly bondage, and appear more angelic than human. 

Although this desert theology enjoined celibacy and self-abnegation 
on both males and females, pious women expressed their ascetic heroism 
in vastly different ways. 23 The desert corpus advanced, in particular, the 
harlot-saint figure, holy women (usually former prostitutes) who had lan- 
guished in their lust and finally redeemed their flesh by immuring them- 
selves in caves and practicing radical penance. These “holy harlots,” such 
as Mary of Egypt and Pelagia of Antioch, signified God’s redeeming power 
as they transformed their bodies from corruptible Eves (harlot-temptress) 
to impenetrable Virgin Marys (cloistered behind cave walls and chaste). 24 
The holy harlots’ cave existence provided a symbolic replica of Mary’s 
impenetrable womb. The Virgin Mary provided a didactic icon, exhorting 
women to reverse their fallen nature inherited from the temptress Eve. 

As the ascetic impulse spread to the western regions of the empire 
(including Italy and Gaul) during the fourth and fifth centuries, Western 
theologians adapted the harlot-saint ideal to its new audience. Church 
fathers assimilated respectable Roman matrons to the desert icons and 
promoted Mary as a sublime model for female imitation. Mary presented 
a virginal ideal that advanced an ascetic theology: her pure, incorruptible 
body signified the redeemed flesh available (through asceticism) to the 
daughters of Eve. In constructing this Marian exempla , church fathers 
relied on already existing literary and theological traditions. 

Popular extracanonical Christian works had displayed the fascina- 
tion with Mary’s virginity since the early second century. What details 

48 Chosen among Women 

the Gospel accounts neglected, popular imagination soon supplied. In 
the Odes of Solomon (an early hymn book written in verse), the author 
embellished the Gospels’ account of Jesus’ miraculous conception and 
delivery. First, the Holy Spirit opened Mary’s breast, combined her milk 
with God the Father’s, and delivered the mixture to Mary: 

The womb of the Virgin took [the milk] , 

And she received conception and gave birth. 

So, the Virgin became a mother with great mercies. 

And she labored and bore the Son but without pain, 

Because it did not occur without purpose. 

And she did not require a midwife, 

Because He caused her to give life. 25 

In this text the image of the virgin merges provocatively with the mater- 
nal nature of a lactating God and Mother. The virgin is neither barren 
nor desolate; she is “mixed” with God, produces milk, and delivers a son. 
Mary also escapes the indictment of Genesis 3 . 1 6: “I will greatly increase 
your pangs in childbearing: in pain you shall bring forth children.” The 
Odes of Solomon provides Mary with prelapsarian flesh, freeing her from 
Eve’s punishment for paradisiacal sin. Hagiographers thus confirmed 
that virginal asceticism leads to physical and spiritual transformation. 26 

The Protevangelium of James, another second-century apocryphal 
text, goes even further. Although controversial and even banned for a 
time in the Latin West, the Protevangelium effectively laid the founda- 
tion of late antique and medieval Marian theology. It emphasized Mary’s 
Immaculate Conception, perpetual virginity, and childhood miracles. It 
also established a gendered metaphor of the virginal body by confining 
and containing Mary within temple walls and, later, Joseph’s home (do- 
mestic space). 

The Protevangelium depicted Mary as the ultimate sacred space. In 
imitation of Hannah’s plea for a son (1 Sam. 1.9-11), the Protevangelium 
describes Anna and Joachim’s desperation for a child (even a girl child). 
After Mary’s birth the couple preserves the infant’s room as a sanctu- 
ary and prevents any impurities from entering. When Mary was three 
years old, Anna and Joachim fulfill their pledge and consecrate her at the 
temple where she was “nurtured like a dove” and “received food from 

Virgins and Wombs 49 

the hand of an angel.” 27 After Mary reaches the age of menstruation and 
becomes a potential pollutant to the temple space, Joseph, a local wid- 
ower, accepts her into his care. The childhood room, the temple space, 
and finally the private sphere of Joseph’s guardianship maintains Mary’s 
sacrality. She, like the space she occupies, remains impenetrable (except 
to the consecrated priest), protected, and contained. 

In rendering Mary’s body as sacred space, early hagiographers sym- 
bolically correlated her with the Hebrew temple constructed on the tab- 
ernacle prototype. Beginning in Exodus 25, God commanded Moses to 
construct this tabernacle (or dwelling place) for him in the midst of the 
Israelite camp. The tabernacle, consecrated to God, included an outer 
courtyard complete with an altar accessible to the Israelites, an outer 
sanctum accessible only to the priests, and an innermost Holy of Ho- 
lies accessible only to the high priest. A fine curtain woven from blue, 
purple, and crimson yarns and fine twisted linens separated the outer 
sanctuary from the inner sanctum. In the Holy of Holies resided the ark 
of the covenant, and in the empty space between the cherubim mounted 
on the ark resided God himself. 

Late antique hagiographers subtly transformed Mary’s body into a 
tabernacle. Mary moves from her parents’ public space to the temple’s 
sacred space and finally to her restricted existence under Joseph’s guard- 
ianship. Like the tabernacle’s Holy of Holies, Mary soon holds God’s 
presence within her innermost womb/chamber. The tabernacle’s Holy of 
Holies can even be interpreted as a nuptial bedchamber; in that sacred 
space God united with Israel, his Bride. 28 In similar fashion Mary’s womb 
becomes the locus of God’s presence and union of humanity and divinity. 

According to the Protevangelium , when Mary resided with Joseph 
the temple priests gathered “pure virgins of the tribe of David” to weave 
a new veil for the temple. The priests then cast lots to decide which 
virgin should weave what color: “And to Mary fell the lot of the ‘pure 
purple’ and ‘scarlet.’” 29 When Gabriel later visited Mary and announced 
her pregnancy, Mary trembled and “took the purple and sat down on her 
seat and drew out [the thread].” 30 As she encounters the angelic messen- 
ger, Mary weaves the purple and red symbolic of divinity and martyrdom 
just as her womb would soon “weave” the flesh of the God-Man. 

At the end of the Protevangelium , the midwife Salome questions 
Mary’s sacrality and receives prompt retribution. Like the apostle Thomas 

50 Chosen among Women 

in John 20.25, Salome doubts the physical integrity of the person before 
her: “As the Lord my God lives, unless I put [forward] my finger and test 
her condition, I will not believe that a virgin has brought forth.” 31 After 
she inserted her hand, testing Mary’s perpetual virginity, it withered (or 
caught aflame), restored only by the touch of the infant Jesus. Mary’s 
flesh, as Jesus with the doubting disciple, proved incorruptible. 

The church fathers included these Marian traditions in a larger 
rhetorical framework of feminine compliance and regulation. Ambrose 
(d. 397), bishop of Milan, for example, championed Mary as the “disci- 
pline of life,” or the sublime model for Roman virgins to emulate. 32 He 
and other like-minded theologians confined females to private space just 
as Mary resided within imposed masculine boundaries throughout her 
own lifetime. Ambrose wrote: 

[Mary] was unaccustomed to go from home, except for divine service, 
and this with parents or kinsfolk. Busy in private at home, accom- 
panied by others abroad, yet with no better guardian than herself, 
as she, inspiring respect by her gait and address, progressed not so 
much by the motion of her feet as by step upon step of virtue. . . . [As 
the Evangelists have shown,] she, when the angel entered, was found 
at home in privacy, without a companion, that no one might inter- 
rupt her attention or disturb her; and she did not desire any women 
as companions, who had the companionship of good thoughts. 33 

This ascetic Mary, cloistered within her domus (domestic space), no 
longer resembles the Hebrew girl of the New Testament Gospels who 
traveled to visit Elizabeth and participated in temple feasts. She instead 
reflects an immuring theology for females proscribed by episcopal au- 
thority. Female ascetics, as the Virgin Mary, resemble the Song of Solo- 
mon’s “garden enclosed”: 34 “You are a garden locked up, my sister, my 
bride; you are a spring enclosed, a sealed fountain” (4.12-13). 

The female virginal body is transformed into sacred space, contained 
and secured. Ambrose even likens virgins to altars on which Christ “is 
daily offered for the redemption of the body.” 35 Yet male agents ulti- 
mately mediate between that sacred space and the mundane world as 
altar servants. Ambrose continues: “Blessed virgins, who emit a fragrance 
through divine grace as gardens do through flowers, temples through 

Virgins and Wombs 5 1 

religion, altars through the priest.” 36 Theology concerned for Mary’s 
virginity reveals not only a model for female imitation but also a rhet- 
oric endorsing masculine agency and authority within the burgeoning 
church. The divine blessings of the female “altars” proceed only through 
the intercession of a masculine clergy. 

Late antique theologians delineated Mary’s sacred status through 
the use of container metaphors; Mary was a feminine vessel, a perpetu- 
ally pure vessel, “possessed” by the divine God-Man. Such imagery 
confirmed her status as virgin (the purified inner sanctum) and mother 
(pregnant with the Divine Son). Theologians such as Ambrose and Je- 
rome again invoked Old Testament descriptions of the Hebrew taber- 
nacle, transforming Mary into an archetypal sacred container holding 
the Divine within her body. 

Just as the Holy of Holies and the ark of the covenant marked the 
dwelling place of Yahweh in the midst of the Israelites, Mary’s womb 
provided the empty space wherein the God-Man dwelled. The door or 
passageway remained sealed except for the divine High Priest. Ambrose, 
in De Institutione Virginis , asserts the Mary-tabernacle parallel explicitly 
while discussing the Book of Ezekiel. Ambrose identifies Mary as an ex- 
emplary model and transmutes her into the prophet Ezekiel’s visionary 
New Temple: 

And later the prophet [Ezekiel] related that he had seen on a very 
high mountain the structure of a city whose many gates were re- 
vealed; one, however, was described as shut, concerning which he 
said: Then He (the Lord) brought me back to the outer gate of the 
sanctuary, which faces east; and it was shut. The Lord said to me: 
This gate shall remain shut; it shall not be opened, and no one shall 
enter by it; for the Lord, the God of Israel, has entered by it; there- 
fore it shall remain shut (Ezek. 44.1-2) [Ambrose added]: Who is 
this gate except Mary, “shut” as a virgin? Therefore, Mary is the 
gate, through whom Christ entered into this world [,] ... a gate 
which was shut, and is not opened. Christ passed through her, but 
did not “open” her. 37 

Ambrose explains that the porta is the womb’s gate (venter), inviolate 
for any ordinary man, yet miraculously penetrated by the God of Israel. 

52 Chosen among Women 

Mary’s womb corresponds to the Temple’s east door, accessible only by 
the Divine and sealed thereafter. 

Jerome, too, relates Mary’s body to the Hebrew temple. In his po- 
lemic Against Pelagius, Jerome defines Mary’s womb as the temple’s east 
door available only to the High Priest. The divine God-Man alone mi- 
raculously entered the womb, and it remained permanently closed after 
Jesus was born. 38 

Jerome’s text reveals that Marian theology was still evolving in the 
West; for in an earlier treatise Jerome had explained that Christ, as the 
“first-born,” had indeed opened Mary’s womb. 39 This had compromised 
Mary’s in partu virginity, or the notion that Mary’s womb remained mi- 
raculously sealed and she remained (corporally) a virgin before, during, 
and after childbirth. Yet when Jerome wrote Against Pelagius in 415, he 
concluded along with Ambrose that Mary’s womb remained perpetually 
closed like the tabernacle’s east gate. Jerome and Ambrose successfully 
translated Mary’s womb into a metaphor for permanent enclosure (like 
the tabernacle’s inner sanctum). Not only did this argument boost the 
uniqueness of Christ’s birth (i.e., a Christological point), but it also sup- 
plied a powerful prototype for the growing number of female ascetics to 
imitate: one of seclusion, purity, and impenetrability. 

Marian texts extolling this immuring lifestyle, using the womb as a 
metaphor, ultimately served to curb the public and independent careers 
of imperial women recently converted to Christianity. 40 Late antique ha- 
giographers advertised the vitae of wealthy patrician women who dedi- 
cated their money to the church, their lives to charity, and their bodies to 
a new spiritual Bridegroom while leaving the public rule of the church to 
male clergy. Hagiographers modified desert spirituality to a new form of 
elite asceticism wherein matrons and young virgins abandoned their fin- 
eries and delicacies in favor of a more austere lifestyle devoted to pious 
reflection, usually under the tutelage of male mentors. 

Jerome’s personal fondness and spiritual counsel for Roman matrons 
consecrated to the ascetic life is a significant example of this new elite 
asceticism. He paints a vivid picture of ascetic expectation in his Epistle 
22 to the young virgin Eustochium. 41 A good virgin, Jerome explained, 
exercised self-control regarding food and drink; she never evoked lust 
from a man’s heart; and she never crossed the boundaries of her domus2 2 
At the same time, however, Jerome encouraged holy women to imitate 

Virgins and Wombs 53 

Paula’s excessive (and public) acts of charily. In his Vita Paulae ( Ep . 1 08), 
Jerome said: 

Her liberality alone knew no bounds. Indeed, so anxious was she to 
turn no needy person away that she borrowed money at interest and 
often contracted new loans to pay off old ones. . . . “God is my wit- 
ness,” she said, “that what I do I do for His sake. My prayer is that I 
may die a beggar not leaving a penny to my daughter and indebted 
to strangers for my winding sheet.” 43 

Paula, a noble woman descended from the Gracchi and Scipios accord- 
ing to hagiographic convention, subverts traditional Roman values by 
abandoning her family and relinquishing her patrimony to wed her new 
heavenly Bridegroom. 44 She becomes a new Mary, submissive, silent, 
and receptive to God’s will, which is now mediated by a masculine hier- 
archy (i.e., Jerome). 

The womb also provided theologians such as Ambrose and Jerome 
with a multivalent symbol. Blurring gender boundaries, the theologians 
used the womb not only as a metaphor for female purity and enclosure 
but also as an image of fecundity and birth. The soul, much like the 
womb, received the divine seed (or Jesus) and became pregnant. This 
divine (and intellectual) pregnancy transformed both men and women 
into spiritual beings; human gender proved irrelevant as God impreg- 
nated the souls of both sexes. 45 Origen proclaims that the soul repre- 
sents the heavenly Bridegroom’s beloved who “conceives from Christ, 
it produces children. . . . Truly happy, therefore, is the fecundity of the 
soul.” 46 The soul, like the womb, bears “spiritual” fruit in works and 
deeds. 47 Mary, after all, had welcomed God’s impregnation in an ulti- 
mate act of selfless obedience and, by this holy work ( sanctus labor), gave 
birth to humanity’s redeemer. 48 Every soul, then, should submit to the 
Divine Will, receive God’s seed, and become fecund: in effect, believers 
should become “like Marys.” 49 

Early medieval authors inherited this metaphor of the womb’s spiri- 
tual fecundity and continued to promote Mary as an exemplar for both 
men and women to imitate. For female virgins in particular, Marian im- 
agery articulated a clear message of feminine compliance and accommo- 
dation to the church hierarchy. Medieval authors, much like the church 

54 Chosen among Women 

fathers, encouraged religious women to confine themselves to the grow- 
ing number of cloisters and bear spiritual children instead of corporal 
progeny. Unlike their predecessors, however, early medieval authors 
advised holy women to envision themselves as numinous mothers and 
concentrate on their maternal responsibilities toward their family and 

As Christianity expanded and stabilized in the post-Constantinian 
era, wealthy female patrons offered the method and means of construct- 
ing new monastic foundations, educational facilities, and charitable 
endowments. Virginal rhetoric again offered a social critique and theo- 
logical response to female affluence and charisma. The exemplary vir- 
gin, displayed so eloquently by the Mother of God, extended a powerful 
rejoinder to the pious female’s complex (and perilously public) status in 
addition to promoting an ascetic ideal. 

Bishop Avitus of Vienne (d. 518) composed a poem addressed to 
his sister, Fuscina, in praise of chastity and the celibate life. He assures 
Fuscina that Christ has released her from the bonds of physical lust and 
transformed her into his heavenly bride: “You are enrolled as a consort, 
are wedded to a mighty king, and Christ wants to join Himself to your 
beautiful form which He has selected.” 50 Fuscina’s physical sexuality is 
eradicated by her spiritual (although strangely erotic) union with her di- 
vine Groom. As the Bride of Christ, she is now released from the perils of 
mundane marriage, childbirth, and (hopefully) her own sexual nature. 

Avitus then advises Fuscina that she must bear good works in her 
soul/womb as evidence of her divine marriage. He persuades her to imi- 
tate Mary’s conception of Christ through her own spiritual pregnancy: 

You may follow Mary who was permitted under Heaven’s dispensa- 
tion to rejoice in the twin crown, that of both virgin and mother, 
when she conceived God in the flesh, and the Creator of heaven, 
revealing the mystery of His being, entered her inviolate womb. . . . 
But you, my sister, will not be without the glory of a deed that great 
if, as you conceive Christ in your faithful heart, you produce for 
heaven the holy blossoms of good works. 51 

Avitus carefully acknowledges that such conception is required of both 
men and women: “mind and not gender carried off the palm of victory.” 52 

Virgins and Wombs 5 5 

But, for Avitus, spiritual pregnancy implies separate risks and responsi- 
bilities for the two sexes. 

The pious bishop warns his sister against relapsing into her earthly 
vanities and lusts in a subtle castigation of what he views as woman’s 
nature. He offers spiritual remedies to guard against her sensual proclivi- 
ties; first and foremost he requires her to occupy both body and mind 
with good works. Avitus extols study (a sanctus labor) above all others but 
commands his sister to read “manfully” to avoid distraction and frivolous 
fantasies. 53 He also offers the life of Eugenia as one worthy of contem- 
plation and emulation. 

Eugenia was a Roman martyr who enjoyed intellectual debate and 
studying the Scriptures. As a young virgin, she dressed as a man in order 
to live in a monastery where her piety and devotion distinguished her 
among her colleagues. At the abbot’s death, her brothers nominated her 
as his replacement; she declined, however, because custom prevented 
a woman from ruling over a man. 54 Eugenia’s true identity was finally 
revealed publicly after she was falsely accused of rape. 55 Avitus thus re- 
minds his sister that she may study as a man does and learn as a man does, 
but, in the end, she may not become a man. She should instead remain 
cloistered and protected, obedient to the church hierarchy, and fecund 
in spiritual deeds. 

Bishop Fortunatus of Poitiers, a near-contemporary of Avitus, 
details the spiritual fertility of Radegund, founder of the Holy Cross 
convent at Poitiers. Radegund adopted Caesarius of Arles’s monastic 
rule, which demanded complete claustration. 56 Fortunatus explained 
that Radegund devoted her immured existence to serving her spiritual 
family and the Frankish community with amazing displays of domestic 
piety. When Radegund died, her nuns could only watch from atop the 
convent walls as she was carried away, for, according to the rule, no 
consecrated nun should ever leave the convent’s protection. 57 

Fortunatus’s hagiography chronicles Radegund’s radical acts of self- 
abnegation, displays of charity, and maternal care for her convent. 58 His 
poems also betray a close friendship with both Radegund and Agnes, 
abbess of Holy Cross. In one of his poems addressed to Agnes, he char- 
acterizes Radegund as the mother who had “given birth to both of us 
in a single delivery from her chaste womb, as though the dear breasts 
of the blessed mother had nurtured the two of us with a single stream 

56 Chosen among Women 

of milk.” 59 Fortunatus herein viewed his own spiritual life and friend- 
ship with Agnes as products of Radegund’s spiritual fecundity. She, like 
Mary, gave birth to the church’s saints. 

The life of Galswinth, also by Fortunatus, presents another Merovin- 
gian queen distinguished by her domestic miracles and maternal deeds. 60 
Galswinth’s spiritual fecundity benefited her entire adopted Frankish 
community. Unlike Radegund, she lived outside the cloister and con- 
tinually interceded between the poor and vanquished and her husband, 
King Chilperic (d. 584). 

According to Fortunatus, Galswinth was a Visigothic princess far 
from home and family. Yet in perfect maternal fashion, she adopted 
her new community and served it willingly: “The maiden . . . earned the 
great love and respect of the people. Charming some by gifts, others by 
her words, she thus makes even strangers her own. . . . [T]he stranger, 
by her generosity to the poor was a mother to them.” 61 Galswinth’s deeds 
(performed as one newly converted to Catholic Christianity) might be 
compared to the soul’s fecundity, the spiritual womb giving birth to 
Christian charity. 

One of Galswinth’s postmortem miracles also attested to her revered 
position among her community. As her body was deposited in her burial 
chamber, a hanging lamp crashed to the stone ground yet remained intact 
and with its flame still burning. 62 The lamp symbolizes Galswinth’s beloved 
status as it parallels the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25.1-13. 
According to this parable, ten bridesmaids went to meet their Heavenly 
Bridegroom, but only five had sufficient oil for their lamps. When the 
Bridegroom arrived, he accepted the five virgins and escorted them to the 
wedding banquet. Like the alert and prepared virgins, Galswinth, with her 
lamp continually burning, too attained the Groom’s rewards. 

The lamp may also suggest Galswinth’s maternal function by fur- 
ther assimilating her to the Marian archetype. Not only does the miracle 
echo the parable of the ten virgins but it also recounts God’s command 
in Leviticus 24.2. According to this Old Testament edict, God required 
the priests to maintain lamps within the tabernacle symbolizing his per- 
petual presence. These lamps burned only the purest oil and sat in stands 
of pure gold. Galswinth, as a new tabernacle, held God’s light within her 
own vessel-body even after it crashed to the ground. Fortunatus trans- 
forms Galswinth’s body into a container for the Divine presence. 63 

Virgins and Wombs 57 

Fatima al-Batul (the Virgin ) 

While over the centuries Christianity popularized the virginal return 
to a prelapsarian state by circulating holy women’s vitae, classical Islam 
never articulated a cosmogonic link between sin and sexuality. Asceticism 
flourished in Sufi circles and among pious mystics, but the Qur’an and 
hadith literature extolled the body and sexuality as divine gifts. As Chris- 
tian virgins hoped to reclaim prelapsarian existence free from lust, medi- 
eval Muslims disavowed virginal piety in exchange for marital bliss. 

The Muslim descriptions of paradise offer a sufficient glimpse into 
the exaltation of sexuality and sensual pleasures. In the next life Allah 
will reward the righteous with plentiful gardens, cool waters, luxurious 
mansions, and pure spouses. 64 The medieval exegetes Abd al-Rahman 
b. Ahmad al-Qadhi and Shaykh Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti further detail the 
heavenly vision by including the eight gates at its entrance, all constructed 
in precious stones, atop a ground composed of musk-clay, grass of saffron, 
and dust of amber. 65 In these sublime surroundings also reside heavenly 
houris ( huriyat ), or beautiful female creatures — seventy for each righteous 
male — who are flawless in their sensuality and femininity. Their bodies are 
composed of saffron, musk, and amber, and their cascading hair resembles 
raw silk. Allah assigns each houri to her Muslim husband and engraves his 
name on her chest. She then anxiously awaits her husband’s arrival and 
weeps over his absence. Once there the Muslim man encounters perfect 
love, sensuality, and sexuality: the houris miraculously retain their virginal 
bodies at the same time that their sexual stamina increases. 66 

Muslim men also enjoy perfect sexual pleasure with their earthly 
spouses. They regain youth, vigor, and beauty while their pious Muslim 
women derive complete satisfaction from the eternal marriages. In ac- 
cordance with Islamic law, even in paradise women may have only one 
husband whereas men collect many partners. 67 Although hadith maintain 
that both the male and the female achieve perfect sensual satisfaction 
through their respective experiences, 68 the obvious incongruity is dif- 
ficult to ignore. This view of paradise exemplifies Islam’s approach to 
female sexuality in general. 

In paradisiacal descriptions, female sexuality is both marginalized 
and strictly contained while men languish in various sexual delights with 
wives, houris, and (in some poetry) young boys. 69 Islamic law ignores 

58 Chosen among Women 

female sexuality as well; legal texts go to great lengths to outline legal ex- 
pressions of male sexuality but are largely silent on women. Shi'ite Islam 
even permits a much-debated form of temporary marriage called mufa 
to accommodate the male sex drive. Temporary marriage is a contract 
forged between a man and a woman, without legal documentation and 
often in private, that binds husband and wife for an established amount 
of time, from a number of hours to ninety-nine years. Supporters of tem- 
porary marriage argue that it gives men a religiously sanctioned method 
of sexual contact with the implicit supposition that they seek sexual plea- 
sure more ardently than do women. 70 

From a Western perspective, this version of male sexuality expressed 
even in paradise might seem materialistic and oddly sensual. Late antique 
and early Christian theologians (who shaped medieval and even some 
modern expectations of the afterlife) viewed paradise very differently. 
Many of these authors, such as Irenaeus and Tertullian, agreed that the 
flesh itself will be resurrected; that is, human identity does not simply 
reside in the spirit or soul but also in the body’s material continuity. Yet 
the resurrected flesh will be very different from the earthly body: accord- 
ing to 1 Corinthians 15.2 1-54, the resurrected body will be imperishable 
and incorruptible; in Matthew 22.23-32 the body will not marry but be 
like the angels; and in 2 Corinthians 5.4 the earthly body is but a burden- 
some tent/ tabernacle compared with the immortal, heavenly dwelling. 
The resurrected heavenly bodies will not require food, sex, or sensual 
joys but will take pleasure in continually praising God. 71 According to 
Jerome and Augustine, sex organs will remain in heaven (unused) as part 
of a sublime gender hierarchy only because this hierarchy was so impor- 
tant in defining virtuous rank on earth. 72 

In Islamic religious consciousness, however, paradise is a logical con- 
tinuation of the celebration of the body’s senses: it celebrates even more 
fully the ways Muslims encounter Allah and enjoy his creation through 
the body. The flesh and sexual pleasures, far from being associated with 
primeval sin or obligatory redemption, number among Allah’s creation 
and, therefore, his wondrous gifts. The Qur’an encourages sexual in- 
timacy (within legal marital bonds) and even promotes marriage as a 
metaphor for Allah’s unity. 73 

Although Islam releases humanity from the scar of original sin and 
the shame of sexuality, Muslims nonetheless struggle to maintain a state 

Virgins and Wombs 59 

of purity required to commune with Allah. In this sense Islam resembles 
the halakhic traditions of Judaism, carefully outlining conditions of ritual 
purity and impurity. Pollution is not viewed as an ethical issue or sin 
problematic. Pollution or impurity works instead within legal traditions, 
separating the sacred from the mundane. Islam asserts a constant con- 
tention between sacrality and pollution on a daily, even hourly basis. 

Islamic law regulates and routinizes the body’s constant lapse from 
and return to purity. Throughout the day legal pollution occurs through 
biological functions of elimination, excretion, or emissions. After ritual- 
ized cleansing (either wudu\ lesser ablutions, or ghusl , complete lustra- 
tion), the body returns to its pure state, again able to commune with 
God. 74 The impure body must remain outside sacred boundaries, dissoci- 
ated from handling the Qur’an, prayer, or fasting. The female body also 
derives impurity from menstrua, pseudomenstral emissions, or lochia. 

In contrast, the paradisiacal body realizes a state of constant purity 
and functions as a vehicle for divine communion with Allah. Instead of 
receiving redemption from its sexual sin and shame, the body achieves 
complete harmony with itself. The righteous, for example, consume 
food without digestion and excretion and experience sex without pollu- 
tion (the emission of semen or other fluids), and women cease to men- 
struate. 75 From this paradisiacal state, Fatima or al-Batul (the Virgin) 
originates. 76 

Fatima’s appellation, al-Batul, at first seems enigmatic considering 
that she bore four children who survived her: two sons, Hasan and Hu- 
sayn, and two daughters, Zaynab and Umm Kulthum. Unlike the Virgin 
Mary, al-Batul need not indicate corporal integrity. Fatima as Virgin 
instead symbolizes paradisiacal purity through exemption from all ritual 

Certain Shkite hadith place Fatima in paradise, preexistent and 
formed of Allah’s nur , prior to her earthly conception. There Allah 
stored her essence in a fruit (apple, date, or pomegranate) and com- 
manded Muhammad to consume it during his famous night journey and 
ascent to paradise at the beginning of his ministry (mPraj)\ 

The Prophet said: When Gabriel ascended with me to the heavens, 
he took my hand, he admitted me to paradise, and he offered to me 
a date from it. And I ate it and it was changed to sperm in my loins. 

60 Chosen among Women 

When I descended to the earth and had intercourse with Khadija, 

she became pregnant with Fatima. 77 

In a scene reminiscent of the Christian Fall, Muhammad eats from the 
paradisiacal tree as commanded by God via Gabriel. The proffered (not 
forbidden) fruit contained Fatima’s essence, and eating it led to her 
creation and birth. In contrast, Christian theologians viewed eating as 
humanity’s pathway to sin. By consuming the fruit denied them in para- 
dise, Adam and Eve brought death and destruction into the world. This 
imagery hints again at Islam’s completion of the Judeo-Christian story. 
God invites Muhammad (unlike the biblical prophets before him) to eat 
the fruits of heaven, while Khadija, in another type of miraculous con- 
ception, receives Fatima’s essence directly from paradise. Fatima, like 
Mary’s immaculate conception and Jesus’ virgin birth, is conceived free 
from sin, pollutants, or impurities. 

Muhammad continuously recalls his daughter’s paradisiacal nativity 
by calling her a human houri and reporting that he “smells from her 
fragrance of paradise.” 78 Fatima characterizes eschatological perfection: 
like the houris who remain eternal virgins, Fatima’s body displays the 
idealized feminine form. She emanates musk and amber, she never men- 
struates, and she bears her sons without blood loss or other contami- 
nation. 79 Instead of exemplifying corporal integrity, Fatima’s status as 
virgin connotes paradisiacal perfection free from impurities. She is, by 
her essence, sacred. 

Shkite hadith underscore this sacrality through linguistic exegesis 
of batul (J_£j). According to one transmission, the Prophet designated 
al-batul simply as one “who has never seen red, that is, has never men- 
struated.” 80 The transmitter further defines virgin by relating the root 
(verbal form), batata (J-^-m, to cut off or sever), to its synonym, qatda 
(^ 3 ). Mary is a virgin, “cut off from man,” devoid of passion for them or 
they for her. Fatima, however, is “cut off [separated] from women of her 
time.” 81 The human houri thus surpasses the virtuous women on earth in 
both purity and divine favor. 

Other hadith rank Fatima as superior to women not only of her own 
generation but also of all time. She is compared specifically with Maryam 
bint "Imran (Mary, daughter of Imran) and receives the appellation 
Maryam al-kubra , or Mary the Greater. This intertextual allusion asserts 

Virgins and Wombs 61 

the supersession of Christianity by Islam. Mary along with other heavenly 
women attend Fatima’s birth, symbolically conceding the infant’s mag- 
nificent status: 

[And while Khadija was in labor] four tall, brown-skinned women 
came to her, as if they were women from Banu Hashim. And she 
feared them when she saw them. And one of them said: Do not 
grieve, Khadija, because we are messengers of your Lord to you, 
and we are sisters. I am Sara, and this is Asiya bint Mazihim [the 
Pharaoh’s righteous wife]. . . . [T]his is Maryam bint "Imran, and 
this is Kulthum, the sister of Musa ibn "Imran, [for] God has sent us 
to you. . . . And one sat to [Khadija’s] right, and the other to her left, 
and the third in front of her, and the fourth to her back. She gave 
birth to Fatima, the Pure One, without ritual impurity. 82 

The sublime midwives, along with ten houris, then proceed to bathe and 
wrap the infant in water and linens from paradise. 

The presence of the four holy women at Khadija’s side attests to 
Fatima’s significant station and Islam’s completion of Judaism and 
Christianity. Sara, Asiya, Mary, and Kulthum all serve Khadija at Fati- 
ma’s birth. Fatima, as Mary the Greater, promotes Islam’s transcendence 
while also providing a feminine ideal of purity and virtue. This ideal does 
not stand alone, however, as Fatima also represents the sublime mother. 
Like their Christian counterparts, Islamic hagiographers emphasize fer- 
tility and spiritual fecundity alongside Fatima’s ritual purity. Once again, 
hagiographers liken their holy woman to sacred containers, a metaphor 
most apt for the mother who held the Imamate within her womb. 

Medieval Shi"ite cosmology presents the womb as an equally com- 
plex and multivalent symbol as does Christian tradition. The womb 
symbolizes both the pure inner sanctum where the sublime seed dwells 
and the locus of fecundity and familial loyalties. Christian exegetes re- 
lated the sacred womb to spiritual vocation and enclosure, commanding 
its female religious to be both virgin and mother, chaste and pregnant. 
Shi"ite authors used the metaphor for different purposes. Instead of out- 
lining the expectations of spiritual pregnancy and the individual soul, 
Shi"ite exegetes linked their communal identity to maternal kinship with 

62 Chosen among Women 

According to Shi'ite cosmology, the pure womb protected Muham- 
mad’s divine nur (as well as that of the Imams) from pollution and con- 
tamination. Medieval hadith related that Allah fashioned the ahl al-bayt 
from his nur before the creation of the heavens and the earth. At the 
moment of creation, Allah placed Muhammad’s nur and the Imams into 
Adam’s loins and then required the angels to bow in symbolic submis- 
sion to their spiritual authority. Allah transmitted the nur through Mu- 
hammad’s Arabian ancestors with women serving as immaculate vessels 
for the light’s “gestation.” This enabled the Prophet to finally boast: “A 
whore has never given birth to me since I came out of Adam’s loins.” 83 
Allah continued to secure immaculate vessels for Fatima and the 
Imams; Muhammad, for example, impregnated Khadija immediately after 
his visit to paradise (mCraj). Once in the womb, Fatima conversed with 
her mother in miraculous displays of maternal comfort. According to one 
hadith, Qurayshi women had rejected Khadija after she married Muham- 
mad so that when she became pregnant she had no companions. Feeling 
her mother’s intense loneliness, the preexistent Fatima consoled her by 
issuing proclamations against the Qurayshi women from the womb in 
her mother’s defense. After Muhammad heard about these chats between 
daughter and mother, he revealed to Khadija a message from Gabriel: 
“He tells me that she is a female, and that she is the blessed, pure progeny 
and that Allah, Blessed and Exalted, will create my progeny from her . . . 
and Allah appoints them [as] His caliphs on His earth.” 84 While these 
traditions emphasize Khadija’s miraculous relationship with Fatima, they 
also illustrate Fatima’s unique status as divine matriarch. Fatima nur- 
tures and comforts her biological mother even before her birth, and she 
contributes the surrogate womb for Muhammad’s sublime progeny, the 
ShFite Imams. 

Fatima, unique among women, participates in the divine light and 
then later furnishes the vessel (her own body) for the Imamate. Mu- 
hammad b. Ya'qub al-Kulayni (d. 940-41) relates Fatima to the famous 
Qur’anic Light Verse (24.35): 

Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth, the parable of His 
Light is as if there were a Niche and within it a Lamp, the Lamp 
enclosed in Glass, the Glass as it were a brilliant star. 

Virgins and Wombs 63 

According to Kulayni’s exegesis, Fatima serves both as the niche wherein 
the lamp (i.e., the Imams Hasan and Husayn) resides and the shimmering 
glass itself. 85 Fatima, unlike the women of her paternal ancestry, is both 
vessel and nur. 

Shkite traditions associate Fatima with other ancient container ar- 
chetypes as well. 86 Noah’s ark prefigures the salvific force not only of 
Fatima but also of the entire holy family as a vessel of salvation. One 
hadith recounts the Prophet’s words: 

The people of my house (ahl bayti ) may be compared to Noah’s ark; 

whoever rides in it is saved and whoever hangs on to it succeeds and 

whoever fails to reach it is thrust into hell. 87 

The ark imagery resonates with the figure of Fatima. She, also as 
a vessel, contains the hope of salvation — her progeny, the Imamate. 
This tradition provides a striking parallel to early Christian exegesis that 
acclaims Mary as the “new ark.” Late antique authors first promoted 
Noah’s ark as the Old Testament symbol for the church. Like the ark the 
ecclesia might be tossed and tried, yet never submerged or defeated. Early 
medieval authors such as Saint Hildephonsus of Toledo (d. 667) likened 
Mary to the wooden vessel: just as the ark held the hope of humanity, so 
Mary’s body enclosed humanity’s redeemer. 88 Theologians thus trans- 
formed both women into sacred vessels for their holy offspring. 

According to Shf ite tradition, Gabriel himself explained to Noah 
that his ark prefigured the holy family’s salvific force. When Allah com- 
manded Noah to build the vessel, the angel delivered five sparkling nails 
to aid in its construction (which resonates with the image of Christ’s 
five wounds). As Noah received the first four, he rejoiced; yet he could 
only weep as he looked at the fifth. 89 Gabriel then reported that the nails 
symbolized the holy family: Muhammad, Aii, Fatima, Hasan, and Hu- 
sayn. The fifth nail, imbued with sorrow and pain, prophesied Husayn’s 
martyrdom at Karbala. 

After Noah completed the ark, God flooded the earth and set the 
vessel afloat. According to tradition, the ark soon experienced rough 
sailing: it began to toss as the waters and wind raged. Noah offered sup- 
plications to Allah and soon learned why the ark trembled so: it was 

64 Chosen among Women 

then passing over the plain of Karbala. 90 Allah revealed the Shkite holy 
family’s prophetic status and suffering; and as Noah recognized and even 
participated in those sufferings, he was symbolically transformed into a 
distant relative and brought aboard the ark of salvation. Just as Fatima’s 
womb contained the light of the Imams, the ark embraced all the adop- 
tive members of the ahl al-bayt. 

Virgin Mothers ? 

Mary and Fatima provide both Christianity and Shkite Islam with the 
ultimate paradox: they are figures of incorruptible purity and virtue preg- 
nant with spiritual deeds and piety. Both women personify ideals of femi- 
nine chastity; they transcend the limitations placed on mundane women 
and attain a paradisiacal form here on earth. Mary, the miraculous vir- 
gin, remains intact and uncorrupted while living a life of seclusion and 
charity in prelapsarian flesh. Fatima, al-batul , provides a pure vessel for 
the Imams within her undefiled body. Whereas early Christian authors 
elevated Mary as flesh transformed, Shkite transmitters hailed Fatima as 
flesh perfected. 

While advancing these feminine ideals, Mary’s and Fatima’s hagi- 
ographers represented them as sacred space. As undefiled containers of 
sublime progeny, their bodies resembled the tabernacle, lamp, and ark 
of biblical tradition. The vessel metaphors also served to subtly promote 
masculine public authority and feminine compliance. Mary’s vita mod- 
eled the secluded and privatized life intended for young Christian virgins 
to imitate; Fatima’s paradisiacal form still deferred to the authority of her 
husband, "Ali. Taken together, the virgin mother is relegated ultimately 
to male agency evident both in a masculine clergy (who traverses sacred/ 
profane and public/private space) and a patriarchal ahl al-bayt (Fatima’s 
father, husband, and sons). 

From another perspective, however, these models may reveal more 
about theology than human gender expectations. The church fathers 
command both men and women to become “like Mary” and transform 
their barren souls into fecund wombs through the conversion process. 
According to ascetic theology, Christ transmutes the sinful flesh of both 
men and women so they may be the spiritual consorts of the Heavenly 

Virgins and Wombs 65 

Bridegroom and dedicate themselves to good works. Fatima’s womb, 
like an ark of salvation, contains the Imamate, the sublime descendants 
of Muhammad created by Allah. Fatima’s purity confirms the Imams’ 
status while offering security to all those who identify with the Shkite 
holy family. Mary’s and Fatima’s bodies thus effectively advertise the 
salvific powers of the church and Shkite Imams, their holy families, to 
their respective communities. 

Chapter Four 

Mothers and Families 

In his work The Body and Society , Peter Brown poses this interpretive 
option for scholars of ancient texts: “Rather, they [the Apocryphal Acts] 
reflect the manner in which Christian males of that period partook in 
the deeply ingrained tendency of all men in the ancient world, to use 
women ‘to think with'” 1 Brown’s approach resembles Douglas’s notion 
that considerations for the human body reflect larger concerns within 
the body politic. Drawing also on the conclusions of the structural 
anthropologist Claude Levi- Strauss, Brown argues that male authors 
present women as a means to verbalize concerns for Christian identity 
in a seductive pagan society. His project, like current feminist schol- 
arship, approaches women as literary constructions employed by male 
authors to didactic ends . 2 Cameron, for example, relates late antiquity’s 
obsession with the virginal body to the political purity and security of 
the Christian empire . 3 Feminine imagery reveals not only social expec- 
tations of women but also political and theological designs promoted by 
a male elite. 

Such a methodology affords a better understanding of how hagiogra- 
phers and theologians of Christianity and Islam used the image of Mary 
and Fatima. Medieval writers certainly intended their models to provide 


68 Chosen among Women 

guides for women to imitate; yet they also employed Mary and Fatima to 
think about matters of politics and theology. By using Mary and Fatima 
as symbols to think with , medieval authors articulated ideals of orthodoxy 
or rightness. Male writers developed the notions of right doctrine, right 
communities, and right gender. 

Early Christian and ShFite theologians formulated their doctrinal 
orthodoxy by explaining Mary’s and Fatima’s role as holy mother to 
their holy families. Each group’s rightness refers to the nascent religious 
identity evolving among their own ranks; it does not imply universal 
recognition of a true or pristine Christianity or Islam. In the specific case 
of Shrism, for example, Shkite Muslims were neither demographically 
dominant in the Muslim world nor (except for a brief time during the 
mid-tenth century) politically successful in the medieval period. Doc- 
trinal orthodoxy applies to the specific theology and ideology shaped 
by religious thinkers about their own rightness, their own identity. By 
highlighting Mary’s and Fatima’s relationship with their sublime prog- 
eny, these authors fashioned feminine authorities on matters of theology 
and morality. Mary, as the mother of God, gave expression to the nature 
of Christ; and Fatima, as the Imams’ mother, verified the status of the ahl 
al-bayt. Right doctrine became flesh in both Mary and Fatima. 

As doctrinal orthodoxy developed and became a matter of iden- 
tity, both the Christian and Shi'ite communities needed to clarify their 
boundaries and sharpen their polemics against the other or the heretic. 
Although cogent theological statements in the early medieval period cer- 
tainly exist, many dogmatic statements and concerns are embedded in 
texts about women. As medieval authors distinguished their own nascent 
communities from unorthodox ones, they used identification with holy 
women as a marker. 

Hagiographers reified Mary’s and Fatima’s heavenly attributes in 
terms of miraculous maternity and domestic deftness. As the female was 
increasingly identified as the core of the family unit, she also emerged 
as a politically galvanizing symbol for the group she represented. With 
the establishment of a matriarchal figure at its center, what might other- 
wise be just another political faction was transformed into a spiritual 
family — the social group that creates the deepest affective bond among 
its members. Although both groups sought to create a spiritual com- 
munity, Christian and Shf ite hagiographers exalted two very different 

Mothers and Families 69 

styles of motherhood. The Christian theologians’ Mother Mary extolled 
a more sublime maternal model wherein the bride wed a heavenly Bride- 
groom and often (but not always) adopted a life of chastity. This path was 
a path of perfection. Shkite authors offered Fatima as a more practical 
model for Muslim wives and mothers to emulate; Islam lauded temporal 
marriage and motherhood over the more symbolic, spiritual pattern fol- 
lowed by monastics. 

The Merovingians employed the Christian maternal image to pro- 
vide themselves with a political pedigree in the sixth and seventh centu- 
ries. The new Frankish dynasty converted to Christianity and vigorously 
employed Christian symbols as a means of authorization among the 
Gallo-Roman elite they supplanted. Frankish texts sanctioned female 
monasticism and Merovingian rule by adapting abbesses and queens 
to a Marian heavenly prototype, thereby identifying Merovingian holy 
women as maternal and nurturing intercessors. They remade their queens 
into royal mothers and their abbesses into new Marys. Those outside of 
Frankish royal bonds — the Goths, the laity, or the Arians — lacked mem- 
bership in the elite and presumably blessed and favored group. 

Classical and medieval Shkite texts likewise converted Fatima into 
the mystical nexus of the holy family, equating orthodoxy with familial 
membership. The early Shkite community envisioned itself as members 
(and defenders) of the ahl al-bayt, a type of extended family with Fatima 
at its center. While the community might be persecuted in this world, 
these righteous kin would certainly receive their reward in paradise. As 
sublime matriarch, Fatima identified her supporters and adopted kin 
and then cast all pretenders into the hellfire. Shkite hadith accentuated 
Fatima’s maternal role with gendered images of miraculous parturition, 
suckling, and food replication. 4 

It is impossible to deny that theologians also intended Mary and 
Fatima as orthodox gender models for all pious women to imitate. As 
matriarchs (and idealized virgins, mothers, and brides), Mary and Fatima 
draw their authority from the private domestic sphere, a space ideally 
regulated by public male figures. Priests, Imams, and Shkite clerics arro- 
gate to themselves public authority by symbolically negotiating between 
the domestic sphere and public space. Pious women, emulating Mary 
and Fatima, thus should yield (at least in theory) to the altar servants and 
religious scholars sanctioned by God. 

70 Chosen among Women 

Sublime Brides , Pious Mothers , and Holy Families 

Even though early Christian theologians praised virginal asceticism, they 
also elevated marriage and motherhood as pious vocations. Even Jerome 
admitted that brides and mothers would inherit their heavenly reward, 
although it would be significantly less than virgins and chaste widows. 5 
Theologians again found their didactic icon in Mary; the Blessed Virgin, 
elevated for her docile submission to God’s will, also reigned as Christ’s 
Bride and Mother. 6 As such she provided not so much a practical model 
for secular brides and wives but a spiritual ideal for Christ’s monastic 
spouses. Though Mary’s identification with the Bride of Christ only 
reached its zenith during the high and late Middle Ages, especially with 
the writings of Bernard of Clairvaux, 7 late antique and early medieval 
exegetes laid the theological foundation. 

Christian Scriptures are replete with bridal images. Old Testament 
prophets often described the covenant between Yahweh and Israel as a 
marriage pact. Isaiah proclaims: “For as a young man marries a young 
woman so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices 
over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you” (62.5). Ezekiel and 
Jeremiah warn Israel not to forget her bridal responsibilities or commit 
adultery with other nations’ gods (Jer. 2.32). Likewise, New Testament 
disciples identify Christ as the Bridegroom (Matt. 9.15; Mark 2.18-20; 
Luke 5.33-35) and Paul defines the church as Christ’s bride (Eph. 5.25-33; 
2 Cor. 11.2). 

Early church fathers emphasized these nuptial images and furthered 
the Pauline metaphor by correlating the church /ecclesia with the Virgin 
Mary. They explained that the Song of Songs’ bridal figure (already as- 
sociated with the ecclesia ) signified Mary herself. In a rather ironic twist, 
patristic authors thus identified the Virgin with the pure, unstained Bride 
from the canon’s most sexual text. 

The Song of Songs opens with the plea, “Let him kiss me with 
the kisses of his mouth,” and continues with visions of perfumes, wine, 
beauty, and desire. Amid images similar to the Islamic paradisiacal de- 
scription, the lover (Bride) and beloved (Bridegroom) express their mu- 
tual affections. The lover describes him: “His head is the finest gold; his 
locks are wavy, black as a raven. His eyes are like doves beside springs 
of water, bathed in milk, fitly set” (Song of Songs 5.11-12). He is like “a 

Mothers and Families 7 1 

bag of myrrh that lies between my breasts ... a cluster of henna blos- 
soms in the vineyards of En-gedi” (1.13-14). The beloved extols his 
bride’s beauty: “Your lips are like crimson thread, and your mother is 
lovely. . . . Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle, that 
feed among the lilies. . . . You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is 
no flaw in you” (4.3-7). 

The Song of Songs boldly approaches sensuality and sexuality and 
develops intense emotion between two equal participants. The bride and 
bridegroom’s mutual desire, however, remains unsatisfied. As the bride 
searches the streets for her beloved and as the bridegroom disappears 
from the lover’s door, they only contemplate each other’s charms. Un- 
like the Islamic paradisiacal promotion of sexual bliss, love’s power re- 
mains in its desire: “love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave. 
Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame. Many waters cannot quench 
love, neither can floods drown it” (8.6). Christian exegetes argued that 
the Song of Songs promotes an eschatological vision of the church’s own 
anticipation for the return of its beloved Bridegroom. Even in this con- 
text of sensuality and desire, the church (and Mary) retains its virginal 
purity only in expectation of its heavenly consummation. 

Ambrose was perhaps the first church father to correlate Mary with 
the Song of Songs’ perfect, spotless bride. He compared the first display 
of desire, “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth,” (1.2) with the 
Annunciation event. The “kiss” of the Holy Spirit encompassed Mary 
and she conceived the God-Man. 8 Song of Songs 1.2-3 continues, “your 
anointing oils are fragrant, your name is perfume poured out.” This, 
Ambrose said, further signifies the anointed Mary and the virgin birth: 
“she conceived as a virgin and as a virgin brought forth good odour, that 
is to say the Son of God.” 9 

A fifth-century student of Augustine expanded the exegetical correla- 
tion between Mary and Christ’s bride by identifying her with the woman 
mentioned in Revelation 12.1: “a woman clothed with the sun, with the 
moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” 10 This 
apocalyptic figure had only been recognized as the church that would 
descend as the new Jerusalem, or “the holy city . . . prepared as a bride 
adorned for her husband” (Rev. 21.1). The fifth-century conflation of 
Mary and the eschatological woman of Revelation — previously labeled 
the church — underscored her identification with the heavenly ecclesia. 

72 Chosen among Women 

Ambrose and Augustine transformed Mary into a symbol of the 
church most thoroughly. In his exegesis on Luke, Ambrose examined 
Christ’s final words to Mary and John: “‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then 
he said to his disciple, ‘Here is your mother’” (John 19.26-27). He sug- 
gested that Christ’s pronouncement correlated Mary with the church: 
Mary now acted as the universal matron of all disciples, represented by 
John, and as Christ’s Bride. 11 

Both theologians also emphasized Mary’s maternal fecundity with- 
out jeopardizing her perpetual virginity. 12 As a metaphor for the church, 
Mary provided for the intersection of fecundity and virginity. Just as 
Mary delivered Christ, pure and sinless, so too would the church pro- 
duce pure Christians. Augustine provides the most detailed image of the 
Mary-church parallel: 

Let your heart accomplish in the law of Christ what Mary’s womb 
wrought in the flesh of Christ. How are you not included in the 
child-bearing of the Virgin since you are members of Christ? Mary 
brought forth your Head; the church, you His members. For the 
church, too, is both mother and virgin: mother by the bowels of 
charity, virgin by the integrity of faith and piety. She brings forth di- 
verse peoples, but they are members of Him whose body and spouse 
she is, and even in this respect she bears the likeness of the Virgin 
because in the midst of many she is the mother of unity. 13 

The church and Mary share the same pious duties. Both remain pure in 
body and soul yet fertile in charity and conversion. 14 

The church fathers’ expansion of Marian imagery in an emerging 
Christology and ecclesiology also offered a feminine image of submis- 
sion and obedience. By surveying Mary’s actions as mother, the Fathers 
articulated a feminine ideal of radical compliance. When the angel Ga- 
briel appeared to Mary and announced her impending pregnancy, she 
replied: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according 
to your word” (Luke 1.38). Mary’s acceptance became the exemplary 
model for all the “Lord’s handmaidens,” both virginal and married. 15 

Arabo-Muslim culture has also promoted marriage and motherhood 
as sacred vocations; and, as in Christianity, the status of bride and mother 
can be viewed as both empowering and confining. According to Muslim 

Mothers and Families 73 

theology, for example, the male and female complement each other as 
two aspects of a single being. Qur’an 4.1 states, “O humanity! Fear your 
Guardian Lord, Who created you from a single person, created, out of it, 
his mate, and from them twain scattered (like seeds) countless men and 
women.” Before created time males and females composed a single being 
and will be reunited in the marriage contract: husbands and wives essen- 
tially complete each other. Marriage represents an expression of tawhid 
(divine unity) — returning to the oneness of creation from diversity and 
division. 16 

While marriage between men and women might symbolize cosmo- 
gonic unity and completion, social mores nonetheless make strict dis- 
tinctions between men and women and masculine and feminine space. 
Tradition relegates women to home and hearth, identifying the feminine 
with the private and secluded. In like manner tradition proclaims this 
female space forbidden ( haram ) to men outside the proscribed kinship 
boundaries. Strict clothing customs also enforce the social demarcations 
between the sexes. Men must cover the area between navel and lower 
thigh; women are removed from the masculine gaze by means of veiling 
or complete seclusion. 17 

The gendering of space and dress firmly establishes expectations of 
the sexes: males, in the end, should look and act like men, and women 
should look and act like women. 18 This operates in a larger, divine hi- 
erarchy revealed by Allah wherein the woman resides under masculine 
authority and maintenance. Male householders able to negotiate be- 
tween private and public space are commended as “the protectors and 
maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more (strength 
than the other), and because they support them from their means” 
(Qur’an 4.34). 

The house ( bayt ) serves as feminized space and the locus of domestic 
sacrality. Herein Allah bestows grace and blessing via progeny, especially 
male progeny. Marriage socializes the theology of completion and in 
certain respects objectifies women as childbearers. Women purvey di- 
vine favor by producing offspring while residing under the male house- 
holders’ custodianship. Mothers receive recompense in the afterlife; the 
Prophet, for example, proclaimed that “paradise is under the heels of 
the mother.” 19 Women who die in childbirth receive the same heavenly 
rewards as those warriors who die in jihad. Women resume their earthly 

74 Chosen among Women 

domestic status in paradise as they remain faithful to their husbands and 
nurturers to their children. 

Fatima, as archetypal mother, displays many of these attributes: she 
remains closely aligned with the domestic sphere, she bears coveted male 
children to the Imam "Ali, and she ultimately submits to "Ali’s custo- 
dianship. The Prophet emphasizes Fatima’s submissive qualities in one 
description of her eschatological duties. According to Shf ite tradition, 
Muhammad will lead and intercede on behalf of faithful Muslim males 
before Allah’s throne on judgment day. He commissions Fatima to lead 
the faithful women who not only perform the ritual requirements of 
Islam (prayer, fasting, alms, and hajj) but also “obey their husbands.” 20 
Fatima’s submission to AJi provides a sublime example for women to 
imitate. One transmitter noted that Fatima’s appellation al-haniya , the 
compassionate, indicates her sympathy for her children and obedience 
to her husband. 21 Unlike Mary, Fatima provides a practical model for 
women to imitate, available for all wives and mothers instead of a mo- 
nastic audience married only to a spiritual bridegroom. 

The circumstances surrounding Fatima’s marriage to Ali are some- 
times difficult to distinguish. Both Sunni and Shi"ite hadith describe 
the marriage contract and wedding ceremony between Fatima and "Ali, 
although they vary as to when the union actually took place. Most ac- 
counts claim the marriage occurred in 623 after the Battle of Badr (the 
early Muslims’ first significant victory against the still unconverted Mec- 
cans). 22 There is even less agreement as to Fatima’s age at the time of 
betrothal: various authors place her between nine and twenty-one years 
old. 23 All sources, however, confirm that the wedding was most distin- 
guished by the poverty of the Prophet’s family. 

According to hadith, "Ali provided a meager dowry of either his coat 
of mail (dir, worth 4 dirhams, 300 dirhams, or 400 dirhams), or a sheep- 
skin and a garment. 24 On "Ali and Fatima’s wedding night, Muhammad 
visited and blessed their marriage by sprinkling water across their upper 
bodies. 25 That night, and many others as well, the young couple slept 
atop an untanned sheepskin with a covering too small to reach from head 
to toe. 26 

Shi"ite hadith embellish descriptions of terrestrial poverty with cos- 
mological significance. Before "Ali proposed, for example, other suit- 
ors approached Muhammad offering extravagant dowries for Fatima. 27 

Mothers and Families 75 

Muhammad shunned their display and tossed pebbles at one of the suitors 
that miraculously became precious pearls. 28 The act reveals the Prophet’s 
true wealth and favor with Allah, not measurable against material fortune. 
Gabriel then descends and announces that Allah has already ordained 
Fatima’s marriage to Ali. 

The earthly poverty of Muhammad’s family is then refunded by ce- 
lestial participation. According to one tradition, the paradisiacal wedding 
occurred in heaven forty days before the Medinan ceremony with Gabriel 
acting as the public speaker ( khatib ), Allah as guardian ( wali ), and angels 
as witnesses. The dowry ( mahr ) in heaven reflected the holy family’s true 
wealth: Fatima possessed one-half of the earth along with paradise and 
hell. 29 After the ceremony Allah caused the tuba tree in paradise to shed 
pearls, precious stones, and luxurious robes, which the houris gathered 
and continue to hold for Fatima until the day of resurrection. 30 Such a 
ceremony indicates not only the family’s divine favor but also Fatima’s es- 
chatological significance: she presides over paradise and hell and consigns 
her family’s supporters to one and their enemies to the other. 31 

The terrestrial ceremony was no less significant. Shkite traditions 
relate the appearance of heavenly maidens and houris transporting per- 
fumes, exotic fruits (not tasted by mortal man since the time of Adam), 
and various spices. Gabriel and/or Michael attended, calling down from 
heaven the takbir , or “God is Great, allahu akbar” n According to Shkite 
exegetes, this terrestrial ceremony simultaneously reflects the family’s 
wealth in paradise and contributes the community’s sunna (custom). In 
contemporary marriage celebrations, for example, the exclamation “Allah 
is Great” is recited, and the dowry might be modeled after AJi’s gift. 33 
Fatima’s wedding provides the archetypal ceremony for Shkite brides to 
imitate as well as heavenly rewards for which to strive. 

Shkite traditions acknowledge that Fatima’s engagement and wed- 
ding were not completely without friction. Medieval transmitters such 
as al-Tusi, al-Kulayni, and al-Qummi report Fatima’s reluctance and 
even hostility toward AJi’s proposal. 34 Fatima cries when Muhammad 
introduces her future husband and complains that he is unattractive and 
too poor. Muhammad then lists AJi’s virtues and explains that Allah 
commands the union. Fatima, like the obedient Mary, piously accepts 
Ali and expresses her happiness. Such rhetoric not only advances Ali as 
Allah’s chosen and righteous agent but also models Fatima’s feminine 

76 Chosen among Women 

compliance as she accepts both her father’s will and Ali’s spousal au- 
thority. Legal scholars, both medieval and modern, use her wedding as 
proof that a woman’s permission is necessary in marriage. 35 

Fatima’s largely traditional marriage does not completely distract 
from her unique status. She maintains her divine knowledge and pro- 
phetic insight, even to Ali’s surprise. According to one tradition, Fatima 
received a book from paradise after her father died that outlined all 
world events from the beginning to the end of created time. 36 In another 
tradition, dated before Muhammad’s death, Ali met Fatima and she said: 
“approach, [so that] I [may] tell you of what was, and what is, and of what 
is not until the day of resurrection when the [last] hour is manifest.” 37 
Ali was so surprised by his wife’s prophetic abilities that he immediately 
went to the Prophet and asked how she acquired them. Muhammad, 
without hesitation, reminded the Imam that Allah created Fatima from 
the same nur as themselves. This shared divine essence enabled Fatima 
to share many of the charismatic talents of the Imamate. 

Shfite traditions elevate Fatima as the Mistress of Sorrows. 38 Fatima 
weeps, wails, and mourns the deaths of both her father and her son. 
In 632 Muhammad first tells Fatima of his impending death and then 
consoles her by promising that she shall soon follow (i.e., she will not be 
without him for long). 39 According to ShPite tradition, he then warned 
his daughter of the pathetic sufferings she would experience after his 
death. Abu Bakr and 'Umar refused to recognize Ali as Muhammad’s 
successor and, in an ultimate act of disgrace, denied Fatima the oasis of 
Fadak, land she claimed according to birthright. 40 After public humili- 
ation, beatings, and a miscarriage, Fatima died as the Prophet foretold 
only six months after his death. 

Fatima suffered most poignantly over her son Husayn’s martyrdom 
at Karbala. According to tradition, Fatima witnessed the Karbala tragedy 
from paradise. JaTar al-Sadiq, the sixth Imam, described her reactions: 

[F]or truly Fatima continues to weep for [Husayn], sobbing so loudly 
that hell would utter such a loud cry, which, had its keepers [the an- 
gels] not been ready for it . . . its smoke and fire would have escaped 
and burned all that is on the face of the earth. Thus they contain 
hell as long as Fatima continues to weep . . . for hell would not calm 
down until her loud weeping had quieted. 41 

Mothers and Families 77 

Fatima wails so loudly that neither paradise nor hell are able to ignore 
Husayn’s catastrophic death. 

As the weeping mother, Fatima reflects the gendered expectation of 
women in Arabo-Muslim death rituals. 42 Women traditionally wail and 
lament in public displays after the deaths of close family members. Many 
Muslims condemn this practice because it focuses on earthly instead of 
heavenly familial bonds, seems to challenge the will of Allah, and reveals 
a lack of faith. These critics point to several hadith that disparage loud 
and extravagant exhibitions and instead promote female saints who re- 
fused to wail after their children’s deaths. 43 As wailing is recognized as a 
female occupation, this contentious discourse casts women in the role of 
pious inferiority because they fail to accept tragic events as God’s plan. 

At the same time women’s participation in funerary rites comple- 
ments the usually male-identified methods of mourning, which include 
prayer and verbal compliance to Allah’s will. Women’s wailing affords a 
visual (and auditory) display of kinship ties, familial loyalty, and human 
emotion. In this sense, Fatima as the Mistress of Sorrows reveals a power- 
ful and approachable archetypal mother who grants access to the ahl al- 
bayt: she recognizes those who share in Husayn’s sufferings and welcomes 
them into the “family of sorrows.” 44 This gendered discourse simultane- 
ously contains feminine authority by relating it to the domestic and emo- 
tional spheres. Fatima’s position as virgin and mother thus complement 
each other: as virgin, Fatima signifies the perfectibility of paradise; as 
mother, she binds the terrestrial family of the Prophet to its paradisiacal 
counterpart. Joining the house of sorrows {bayt al-ahzan) on earth ensures 
a position in the house of sorrows in paradise through association with its 
most suffering Mother. 

Right Doctrine 

Medieval Christian and Shkite authors carefully crafted Mary and 
Fatima as holy matriarchs, continually mindful of their respective house- 
holds, the church and bayt. Yet exact membership in those households 
needed explanation. What beliefs identified the true members from pre- 
tenders? Who really belonged in the sublime families? By exploring the 
relationship between matriarch and kin, theologians articulated their 

78 Chosen among Women 

spiritual precepts more fully. In Christianity, for example, Ambrose and 
Augustine explained their Christology by depicting Mary’s miraculous 
conception and parturition; they also developed an ecclesiology by cor- 
relating Mary’s body with the church body (virgin and mother, pure and 
fecund). 45 Merovingian theologians were no different; they also devoted 
considerable effort to both defining Christian orthodoxy and locating 
potential heretical threats by invoking Marian rhetoric. 

Gregory of Tours, for example, defends the doctrinally pure Catholic 
clergy against fraudulent Arians by describing their various miracles. In 
Glory of the Martyrs , he described the Arian-Huns’ siege of Bazas and the 
local bishop’s triumph through prayer. According to Gregory, the bishop 
prayed for relief from the enemy onslaught and God sent “men dressed 
in white” and a “great ball of fire” to frighten the enemy king Gauseric. 
After the Huns deserted the battlefield, the bishop celebrated mass and 
noticed three drops, similar to crystal, hanging from the altar. He gath- 
ered them together and the three fused to form one exquisite gem. 

By an obvious deduction it was evident that this had taken place in 
opposition to the evil heresy of Arianism, which was hateful to God 
and which was spreading at that time. It was furthermore acknowl- 
edged that the holy Trinity was bound in a single equality of power 
and could not be pulled apart by chattering [arguments]. 46 

By miraculous intervention, God revealed the real motivation behind 
the bishop’s success; it was a victory of orthodoxy over Arian heresy 47 
Hagiographers also emphasized orthodox theology against the Arians by 
repeated appellations of Mary and her role as the God-Man’s mother. 
These statements, ubiquitous and formulaic, introduced Christ in incon- 
trovertibly orthodox terms. Gregory once presented Christ as one who, 
in the end, “deigned to be enclosed in the womb of Mary, ever virgin and 
ever pure, and the omnipresent and immortal Creator suffered Himself 
to be clothed in mortal flesh.” 48 

Sometimes Mary played a more active role in the defense against 
heresy. Gregory recounts one Marian miracle that occurred “in the East” 
wherein a young Jewish boy attending mass with his friends received the 
holy Eucharist. 49 When he returned home, the young boy revealed his 
actions to his father, “an enemy of Christ and Lord and his laws.” 50 The 

Mothers and Families 79 

Jewish father immediately tossed the boy into a blazing furnace despite 
the frenzied pleas of the mother. Neighboring Christians finally realized 
what was happening and interceded; they found the boy lounging unhurt 
on the flames “as if on very soft feathers.” 51 While God had protected the 
young boy just as he had protected the three Hebrews of the Old Tes- 
tament, he condemned the father to the anguishing flames. 52 The boy 
professed afterward that “the woman sitting on the throne in that church 
where I received the bread” protected him inside the furnace. 53 Gregory 
concluded that the blessed Mary guarded the young communicant who 
then, “having acknowledged the Catholic faith, . . . believed in the name 
of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” 54 Mary’s intervention 
expressed the Trinitarian orthodoxy, the potency of church sacraments, 
and salvific hope for “heretical” Jews. 

The miracle story also might have been Gregory’s attempt to warn 
Jews against interfering with conversion. In the sixth century a renewed 
wave of anti-Semitism swept through Gaul: the Council of Agde (506) re- 
iterated earlier restrictions against Jews and Christians intermarrying and 
eating together; 55 and Bishop Avitus of Clermont introduced forced ex- 
pulsions and conversions in 576. Gregory, who had written several texts 
supporting the efforts to convert Jews, might have intended his miracle 
story as a warning against Jews in Clermont who sought revenge against 
the conversion efforts. 56 The Marian miracle promised swift and divine 
retribution for those who tried. 

Merovingians also emphasized Mary’s role as mother and nurturer as 
they transformed themselves into Christianity’s new champions. Frank- 
ish women, in particular, became powerful Christian envoys resembling 
Christ’s Bride and Mother. Whereas late antique authors had demanded 
that women deny their sexuality, embrace virginity, and forsake their 
families (and pledge their patrimonies to the church), early medieval ha- 
giographers positioned most holy women at the center of the family unit, 
both mundane and spiritual. This reflects the Frankish political milieu in 
which royal power resided in familial connections. 57 

To recognize that hagiographers relegated their female subjects to 
the domestic sphere does not negate the influence and command that 
Frankish women wielded. 58 Uniquely, holy women shared this domes- 
tic space with their royal kings and kin. A woman’s power at court, for 
example, often depended on her loyal household servants, the strength 

80 Chosen among Women 

of her regency over a minor child, and her family connections, not to 
mention her wealth. According to Frankish law codes, women could own 
land, and royal women often received land as part of their morgengaben , 
or bride-price. Personal land and control of royal treasuries translated 
into substantial power. 59 Hagiographies thus reveal a strong domestic 
core of royal might, with the holy woman, the sublime matriarch, care- 
fully poised at its center. Although each royal household differed and 
each holy woman’s family and domestic experience was somewhat differ- 
ent, most biographers developed this matriarchal image by emphasizing 
their conversion efforts. 

Merovingian authors hailed holy queens as great missionaries and 
peacemakers by recognizing and glorifying their efforts in the conver- 
sion of Frankish kings and subsequently their families. During the fifth 
and sixth centuries, residents of Gaul, faced with the Roman Empire’s 
transformation, had merged with the invading Franks to form a unique 
cultural experiment. By necessity, Gallo-Romans and Frankish “bar- 
barians” united in one community ultimately defined by Christianity. 60 
Queens usually transmitted this new faith, converting first their pagan 
kings and then their new communities. 61 

Gregory of Tours describes the conversion of Merovingian King 
Clovis (d. 5 1 1) by transforming him into the “new Constantine” destined 
to convert his empire to Christianity. 62 Gregory merges Clovis’s spec- 
tacular victory over the Alamanni in 496 with Constantine’s legendary 
triumph at Milvian Bridge in 3 12; both received divine visions from God 
that led to conversion. After that conversion Clovis aligned himself with 
Saint Martin of Tours, the most popular of the Gallo-Roman patrons. 
He frequently visited Saint Martin’s relics, sent gifts to the saint’s shrine, 
and patronized the construction of various new pilgrimage sites. 63 

Gregory also explains Queen Clothild’s persistent missionary fer- 
vor that prepared Clovis for his visionary experience. Clothild, of Gallo- 
Roman and Burgundian ancestry, appears as the archetypical nagging 
wife throughout Gregory’s history and her hagiographies. 64 When she 
married Clovis she constantly urged him to convert to orthodox Christi- 
anity for obvious spiritual and even political reasons. 65 Her ninth-century 
hagiographer commended her as the church’s protectress and mission- 
ary responsible for diverting Clovis from idolatry and Arianism. 

Mothers and Families 81 

Queen Clothild funded several basilicas and churches throughout 
Gaul and also sponsored the Parisian cult of Saint Genovefa, a fifth- 
century Gallo-Roman virgin who miraculously protected Paris against 
the Huns. 66 By associating the two holy women, hagiographers cor- 
related Clothild’s own struggles against Germanic Arianism with the 
young saint Genovefa’s contentions with Hunnish barbarians. 

Not only did Clothild serve as a fearless Genovefa against the Arian 
onslaught, she also offered her maternal care to her extended family in 
the newly conquered Frankland. In constructing this feminine ideal, hagi- 
ographers adopted a Marian vocabulary of virgin, mother, and bride and 
fashioned their queen as a numinous matriarch. Queen Clothild becomes 
a new Mary as the mother of the church. Her hagiographer describes the 
king’s baptismal scene: “For as was fitting in the pagan king’s approach to 
baptism, Saint Remigius took the lead as they entered playing the role of 
Jesus Christ and the holy Queen Clothild followed as the embodiment of 
God’s church.” 67 Just as Mary signified the redemptive body of the church, 
so too Queen Clothild offered redemption to the Frankish empire through 
the king and conversion efforts. Her hagiographer says, “Her sweetness 
softened the hearts of a pagan and ferocious people . . . and she converted 
them through blessed Remigius with her holy exhortations and unremit- 
ting prayers.” 68 Queen Clothild reflects Mary’s own salvific acts as mother 
of the church: each is hailed as queen and submissive handmaid. 69 

Doctrinal regulation for both spiritual and political ends took a differ- 
ent path in Shfite Islam. Instead of proliferating lives of specific holy 
women, Shfite hagiographers emphasized the sublime status of Fatima 
and the holy family. Recognition of and acceptance into the ahl al-bayt 
served as an identity marker in early medieval Shfism much like bap- 
tism in Christianity. Through associating with the house of sorrows and 
participating in its suffering, initiates joined a sacred family that offered 
salvation and intercession in paradise. After the tragedy at Karbala, the 
Shfite community was not just a political movement fighting to avenge 
Husayn’s murder but an extended family mourning the Prophet’s grand- 
son and grieving with their kin. 

Medieval hadith designated v Ali and Fatima’s children as Muham- 
mad’s own and extolled their family as the cosmological link between the 

82 Chosen among Women 

Prophet and his community. To love Muhammad’s family was to love 
Muhammad. In one hadith, the Prophet explained to Ali: 

Oh Ali, Fatima is part of me and she is the light of my eye and fruit 
of my heart. What saddens her, saddens me, and what makes her 
happy, makes me happy. ... Be good to her after me, and as for al- 
Hasan and al-Husayn, they are my sons and my two offshoots, and 
they are the masters of the youths of the people of paradise. They 
are as precious to you as your hearing and your sight. 70 

The Prophet explains the intimate bond between himself and his daugh- 
ter: he feels what she feels; she abides, literally, as part of his body. More 
than just a daughter, she provides the surrogate womb for his heirs. The 
shi 'at \ Ali is more than just the party of Ali; it is the party of the family. 

Early ShPite cosmology even promoted a celestial link between the 
souls of the larger Shf ite community and the ancestry of their Imams. 
According to one tradition, Allah constructed bodies for the Imams’ di- 
vine light out of clay. He then separated some of that clay, which was then 
imbued with the Imams’ essence, and created the souls of the shi'at 'Ali. 
After Allah assembled the souls, he removed clay from beneath his throne 
and formed the community’s bodies. The entire Shi'a family, of all time 
and all places, share the Imams’ essence through this celestial generation. 
When one part of the family suffers or experiences joy, the others share 
in that experience. 71 They are joined by spirit rather than blood. 

Allah, as well as Muhammad, recognizes this familial bond in the 
ShFite community. According to one report, Allah “is angry for [Fati- 
ma’s] anger, and is pleased with [her] contentment.” 72 Fatima is an ac- 
cess point to the Divine; she, in effect, links the earthly community with 
the sublime. Whoever offends Fatima, or threatens her favored status in 
the ahl al-bayt , also faces Allah’s punishment. Muhammad extended the 
condemnation of his enemies to include those of his beloved daughter: 
“whoever injure [s] her in my lifetime [or] injure [s] her after my death 
[will receive the same penalty].” 73 

Fatima the matriarch, the intimate of the Prophet and Allah, offers 
entrance into the holy family itself. She functions as the loving mother, 
welcoming her “adopted” children into the extended kinship group. Me- 
dieval exegesis associates her name’s root meaning with this maternal 

Mothers and Families 83 

imagery: ( f-t-m ) designates the process of weaning. The scholars 

explain, “[She] is named Fatima on earth because she weans her shVa 
(party) from the hell-fire.” 74 Fatima’s adopted children receive eternal 
reward through their devoted mother. 

Imami hagiographers emphasize Fatima’s role as matriarch and 
locate her within the home ( bayt ) by assigning her various domestic 
miracles, particularly those of food preparation. These miracles have 
an important precedent in Qur’an 19.22-26: Allah miraculously pro- 
vides Mary, in the pains of childbirth, dates and water. In like manner 
Allah, through Fatima, provides his community with divine sustenance. 
According to Shaykh al-Mufid, (b. 948/950), God honored the chari- 
table deeds of Fatima and the entire ahl al-bayt by sending down Qur’an 
76.8-10: “And they feed, for the love of Allah, the indigent, the orphan, 
and the captive; (saying) We feed you for the sake of Allah alone: No 
reward do we desire from you nor thanks.’” 75 In one example Fatima 
forgets to prepare her family’s meal because she is busy with obligatory 
prayer {salat). When the Prophet and AJi enter, they see a boiling pot of 
meat settled beside her prayer chamber. 76 Fatima turns and is amazed by 
Allah’s providence. 77 

In another miracle account, the Prophet, weak from hunger, staggers 
into Fatima’s home. He asks his daughter for a meal, but she has little 
food in the house. She prepares what she can and offers her father and 
family meat and bread. Allah then miraculously multiplies the provisions 
so that the bowls never empty and the food tastes “as nothing ever tasted 
before.” Fatima, aware of Allah’s bounty, takes the food and distributes 
it to her neighbors. 78 As matriarch, she supplies her family’s nourishment 
and dispenses divine blessings while she also tends to the surrounding 
community, symbolically assimilating them to her maternal care. 

ShFite hagiography pitted Fatima against a specific enemy to the 
faith, Eve or Hawwa’, who ultimately failed to recognize the family’s 
sublime authority. According to early Christian theologians, sin entered 
the world through Eve’s disobedience to God’s paradisiacal law, and 
Mary’s obedience later reversed the shameful taint. For ShFites, Eve/ 
Hawwa’ committed the severest heresy of all: she failed to confess the 
superior status of the holy family and envied Fatima’s position in it. 

The Qur’an is mostly silent regarding Eve/Hawwa’, naming her 
only “Adam’s wife.” 79 Allah placed Adam and his wife in the Garden, 

84 Chosen among Women 

both yielded to temptation, and Allah finally banished them after their 
disobedience. Adam alone received specific blame for their sin (Qur’an 
20.120-22), and he alone repented (2.37). Islam absorbed traditions of 
Hawwa’ through Isra’iliyat, which consisted of Jewish haggadah and 
early Christian apocrypha. These traditions, especially in the tales of the 
prophets (< qisas al-anbiya ), contributed a plethora of extrascrip tural, hagi- 
ographic narratives to the Qur’anic story. The medieval author al-Kisa’i 
described Hawwa’s appearance before her disobedience or betrayal of 

Eve [Hawwa’] was as tall and as beautiful as Adam and had seven 
hundred tresses studded with gems of chrysolite and incensed with 
musk. She was in the prime of her life. She had large, dark eyes; she 
was tender and white; her palms were tinted, and her long, shapely, 
brilliantly colored tresses, which formed a crown, emitted a rustling 
sound. She was of the same form as Adam, except that her skin was 
softer and purer in color than his was, and her voice was more beau- 
tiful. Her eyes were darker, her nose more curved, and her teeth 
whiter than his were. 80 

Medieval Qur’anic exegesis and hadith, drawing on these hagio- 
graphic traditions, expanded the Qur’anic account of Hawwa’ and re- 
vealed her role in Satan’s ploy against Adam. Qur’anic commentators 
filled in the narrative gaps by conforming Hawwa’ to her Christian pro- 
totype. For example, Allah molded Hawwa’ from Adam’s crooked rib as a 
helpmate and comfort. 81 She received the name Hawwa’ — as the mother 
of all the living (hayy) and as one who was formed from a living being, 
Adam. 82 Although liberated from causing the Christians’ original sin (ab- 
sent in Islamic theology), theologians still maintained that Hawwa’, a 
beautiful temptress, led Adam into rebellion against Allah. Because of 
this error, Allah cursed her with menstruation, pain in childbirth, and 
weak mental abilities. 83 Women, like their mother Hawwa’, became a 
potential curse to their husbands instead of a comfort: they represented 
an intellectual and spiritual liability. 84 

Shkite tradition expanded Hawwa’s (and sometimes even Adam’s) 
sin of disobedience and betrayal of Allah to include the betrayal of the 
ahl al-bayt as well. To define Hawwa’ as a failed woman and enemy of 

Mothers and Families 85 

the family, hagiographers juxtaposed her to the feminine archetype of 
Fatima. ShFite traditions reported that Allah favored the Imams above 
all creation and placed them on his throne. He regarded the divine light, 
embodied in the holy family and Imams, as his most beloved and chosen 
regents on earth. By extension, he rewarded their supporters and pun- 
ished their enemies. Any enemy or pretender who falsely claimed the 
Imam’s station, or even consorted with tyrants, committed shirk — the un- 
pardonable sin of “associating,” or maligning Allah’s Oneness (tawhid). 85 
This transgression ultimately led to Adam and Hawwa’s expulsion from 

After their creation, Allah continually warned the couple not to look 
upon the ah l al-bayt with the “eye of envy.” Yet, overcome by tempta- 
tion, Adam and Hawwa’ desired the holy rank Allah never allotted them. 
They became pretenders (sing., muddadn) to the light of Allah; both, 
equally liable, gazed upon the holy family’s exalted status. For Hawwa’ 
this narrative twist permitted temporary exoneration from the role of 
temptress. Since eating from the forbidden tree no longer constituted 
the pivotal moment of sin, Hawwa’s temptation of Adam appeared only 
secondary. In most accounts, Adam and Hawwa’ ate from the forbidden 
fruit as a result of their envy; Adam usually ate first. 86 

Hawwa’s emancipation from the role of temptress did not continue 
unopposed. Shi'ite tradition maintained her inherent impurity and in- 
feriority through constant contrasts to the idealized female: Hawwa’ 
ultimately opposed the Mistress of the Women of the World, Fatima. 
Muhammad’s daughter, like Mary with Eve in Christian tradition, served 
to amend Hawwa’s mistakes and provide the idealized feminine figure. 
Hawwa’ even appeared painfully aware of Fatima’s superiority: 

And [Satan] overcame Hawwa’ to look at Fatima with the eye of envy 
until she ate from the tree as Adam had eaten. And Allah, mighty and 
exalted, expelled them from His Paradise, and sent them away from 
[their position] near Him to the earth. 87 

Hawwa’ coveted not only the rank of the ahl al-bayt but also the specific 
position of Muhammad’s daughter. This established a textual dichotomy 
of feminine imagery exposing Hawwa’s weaknesses compared with Fati- 
ma’s strengths, Hawwa’s heresy with Fatima’s orthodoxy. 

86 Chosen among Women 

Fatima’s role as pristine matriarch verified her perfection and au- 
thority within the holy family; Hawwa’s life, in contrast, seemed a fail- 
ure. Fatima experienced no menstruation, had shorter gestation periods, 
and gave birth without blood or impurities whereas Adam demanded that 
Hawwa’ ritually cleanse before intercourse to ensure her purity. Accord- 
ing to one report, Fatima as sublime matriarch even appeared to Adam 
and Hawwa’ while still in paradise, mystically adorned with her children 
and family: Muhammad her crown, Ali her necklace, and Hasan and Hu- 
sayn her earrings. 88 Eve received only the earthly adornment of jewels 
and precious metals, which fell away after she disobeyed Allah. 89 Fatima 
later wept at the death of her beloved father and son Husayn; Hawwa’ 
only mourned the loss of paradise and her own foolishness. 

Fatima’s birth narrative, wherein Muhammad travels to paradise 
and ingests the fruit filled with her essence, resonates with this imagery. 
Medieval theologians, by depicting Muhammad eating the fruit of his 
daughter, associated Fatima with the tree of knowledge once denied to 
Hawwa’ and Adam. This knowledge, in Shkite exegesis, referred to the 
Imam’s authority and the exalted status of the ahl al-bayt. Fatima resided 
in paradise — part of the tree, part of Allah’s knowledge, part of the holy 
family. Hawwa’ remained alienated from all such grace: she was forbid- 
den the tree and only a pretender to the rank of heaven’s Mistress. Only 
extended family members who recognized Fatima’s exalted position ac- 
cessed the nur Muhammadi and gained hope of salvation: Hawwa’ simply 
never belonged to that elect group. 

An important parallel developed in Merovingian hagiography that 
also pitted a holy woman against her antithesis. Frankish queens were 
patterned after Jezebel, the famous villain of 1 Kings, the heretical and 
treasonous wife of Ahab, king of Israel. Jezebel killed God’s prophets 
and priests, incited her husband to idolatry, and finally threatened the 
security of God’s kingdom. 90 She proved to be the opposite of the ma- 
triarchal queen who converted her community and then interceded for 
them both on earth and in heaven. 

Queens such as Brunhild (b. ca. 545-50), wife of Sigibert (r. 561-75), 
in like manner interfered with the conversion efforts of Columbanus, 
an Irish missionary preaching reform throughout Gaul and, according 
to some accounts, arranged the murders of several bishops. 91 Hagiogra- 
phers transformed what might have passed for political savvy and shrewd 

Mothers and Families 87 

palace machinations for a male into heretical deeds and spiritual de- 
pravity for the female. 

Balthild (d. 680), Neustrian queen and wife of Clovis II (r. 639-57), 
also received the opprobrious epithet from an English hagiographer. 92 In 
the Life of Wilfrid, he reported the second Jezebel’s persecution of God’s 
church and holy men (nine bishops plus various priests and deacons). 93 
Yet in Gaul Balthild received high praise for her piety, charity, and sup- 
port of monasteries; she was, in fact, a saint. 

Balthild’s hagiographer in Gaul, probably a nun at Chelles (a mo- 
nastic house founded by the queen), invoked the familiar vocabulary of 
virgin, mother, and bride to describe her saintly subject. Balthild at first 
desires only a spiritual bridegroom, but she soon submits to “Divine 
Providence” and marries Clovis. 94 She then evolves into the sublime ma- 
triarch, acting as “a mother to the princes, as a daughter to the priests, 
and as a most pious nurse to children and adolescents.” 95 She dutifully 
adopted the community around her as she “ministered to priests and 
poor alike, feeding the needy and clothing the naked [and] . . . funneling 
large amounts of gold and silver through [the king] to convents of men 
and virgins.” 96 

Taken together, the lives of Brunhild and Balthild reveal the peril- 
ous position of most Frankish queens. Hagiographers recounted their 
missionary efforts, their charitable deeds to both consanguineous and 
spiritual kin, and even their miraculous deeds, revealing sublime ma- 
triarchs reminiscent of Mary and all her glories. In the end, however, a 
woman’s legacy ultimately remained in the masculine hand or patriarchal 
expectations that shaped it. The matriarchs could not escape the political 
realities of court that demanded firm regencies, noble allies, and enough 
movable wealth to secure their power. Often such political vicissitudes 
raged against the queen at court and produced a new Jezebel instead of a 
Holy Mother. 97 

In both Christian and ShFite theology, then, women might signify 
doctrinal distinction and political legitimacy only with the aid of a sympa- 
thetic hagiographer. While Mary and Fatima might reveal religious truths 
for their communities, as archetypes crafted largely by male authors they 
never move beyond their appropriate gender designations. The arche- 
types of Eve/Hawwa’ and Jezebel served as a reminder of what could hap- 
pen should holy women fall out of favor with masculine authorities. 

88 Chosen among Women 

Right Communities 

Theologians and hagiographers employed the feminine ideal as a rhe- 
torical tool to sharpen communal boundaries as well as doctrinal distinc- 
tions. In early medieval Christian exegesis, community identified not just 
the elite membership in the orthodox church but also a new vocation 
among one of the many monastic houses quickly being established across 
Gaul. Frankish men and women dedicated themselves to their new spiri- 
tual communities, theoretically forfeiting their worldly status and posses- 
sions. Marian rhetoric helped to define those monastic families and boost 
Merovingian claims to authority. 

Christian authors had always used Mary as a primary example for the 
chaste life; popular narratives even from the second century advanced 
Mary, mother of Jesus, as a perpetual virgin. 98 The Merovingian identi- 
fication with Mary and the monastic life was certainly nothing new. Yet 
the models of Mary from both late antiquity and the early Middle Ages 
shifted emphasis in terms of the female body and maternal expectations. 

The feminine ideals of late antiquity had promoted masculine pro- 
totypes as well as the virginal Mary. Three particularly popular lives had 
outlined feminine virtues worthy of emulation that effectively trans- 
formed women into men. 99 First, the martyr text of Saints Perpetua and 
Felicitas demonstrated maternal sacrifice for the Christian faith. Both 
women forsook their husbands, children, and families for their Christian 
beliefs; Perpetua even transformed into a man in a dream sequence. Both 
saints chose martyrdom over recantation. Second, Saint Thecla aban- 
doned an arranged marriage (despite her family’s reaction) and opted 
for a heavenly bridegroom as she traveled the countryside dressed as a 
man. Third, Saint Eugenia not only cast aside her mundane family but 
also donned male clothing and entered a monastery. 100 These hagiogra- 
phies had advertised Christian conversion narratives as well as gendered 
models of feminine piety. In all these models, the women traded their 
femaleness for the male ideal: they “became like men” in the service of 
God. 101 Mary’s body, too, advertised an ascetic theology of enclosure and 
impenetrability that effectively negated many feminine gender expecta- 
tions. Early church fathers had equated Mary’s chaste womb with claus- 
tration, encouraging other virgins to remain separated from community 
and family (and all the temptations that implied). 

Mothers and Families 89 

Merovingian hagiography, on the other hand, replete with mater- 
nal imagery, elevated Mary’s body as a paradigm for the monastic com- 
munity. Hagiographers encouraged abbesses to first become brides of 
Christ and then, along with abbots, to act as mothers and extend their 
maternal care to both their natural and spiritual families. Hagiographers 
equated the care given by monastic leaders with Mary’s own nourish- 
ment from the womb. One monastery, for example, feared they would 
starve after their wheat supply was depleted, but the abbot assured them, 
“[I]t cannot happen that there is insufficient wheat in a monastery dedi- 
cated to [Mary] who offered from her womb the fruit of life to a starving 
world.” 102 The monks, under the abbot’s direction, then prayed together 
into the night and awoke to find their granaries filled with wheat. The 
abbot’s obedience in prayer brought food to his family just as Mary fed 
humanity through her Son. Mary provides a maternal paradigm that de- 
fines the monastic life. 

Similar to Mary, Merovingian women continued to nourish their 
new Christian communities after conversion. Hagiographers demon- 
strate that these new matriarchs assume spiritual responsibility for their 
extended families that guaranteed the Franks more than just spiritual 
rewards. For the Gallo-Romans and Franks just joining the ranks of 
Christian leadership, holiness offered an avenue of social mobility and 
preservation of familial fortune. 103 Secular and religious authority fused, 
and the Frankish ruling class invested vast wealth in the church. 

Holy women performed an important role in this conversion drama 
as they translated landed estates into monastic communities, immune 
to patrimonial division, episcopal and royal control, and some tolls and 
taxes. 104 A saintly career thus offered a variety of opportunities for women 
as they funded and ultimately supervised family lands. These royal saints 
often worked closely with episcopal authorities who, often enough, were 
their brothers and uncles. Female sanctity eventually reflected the ideal- 
ized queen, the spiritual mother, who possessed and distributed wealth 
not only among her family and church but also the community at large. 

Such a model of sanctity based implicitly on possession of means 
and wealth challenges the desert ascetic theology of late antiquity. 105 The 
much earlier life of Saint Antony, for example, reported Satan’s vari- 
ous attacks on the Egyptian hermits with visions of gold. 106 Personal re- 
nunciation of wealth drew on biblical precedents wherein Christ warned 

90 Chosen among Women 

that riches barred the path to heaven and later purged the Temple of 
moneylenders. 107 Holy men and women who sacrificed everything to the 
church demonstrated the perfect path of self-denial, the path arguably 
unattainable (and undesired) by all Christians yet much needed by the 
church economy. 108 The holy woman Melania the Younger, for example, 
gave a local church “revenues as well as offerings of gold and silver trea- 
sures, and valuable curtains, so that this church, which formerly had 
been so poor, now stirred up envy on the part of other bishops of the 
province.” 109 

Frankish holy women, unlike their late antique counterparts, did not 
necessarily renounce their family ties and forsake their earthly treasures. 
Hagiographers did require saintly separation from secular lusts by de- 
picting holy women’s disregard for fine clothes and jewels. Each time 
Saint Radegund entered a new church she piled her royal attire, com- 
plete with purple garb, gold jewelry, and precious gems, on the altar for 
“the relief of the poor” (without disapproving glares from the clerical 
elite). 110 Frankish women thus provided a means of consolidating landed 
property through their monastic complexes and estates; and, perhaps 
more significantly, they channeled royal wealth to the surrounding com- 
munity. Merovingian holy women present paragons of maternal comfort 
and provision to their mundane poverty-stricken communities and their 
spiritual kindred. 

Hagiographers also explain that Frankish saints dared to cast aside 
their royal privileges and become submissive “holy handmaids” (such as 
Mary) by performing common domestic deeds. Radegund’s homey mir- 
acles permeate her vita as she ventures outside her royal confines to tend 
to the sick and poor. She advances beyond the wealthy patron who simply 
funds charities and transmutes into a royal servant. She bathes the bod- 
ies of the poor, “scrubbing away whatever she found there,” combs their 
hair, and washes their feet. During their meal, which she also prepares, 
Radegund cleans “the mouth and hands of the invalids herself.” 111 With 
this inversion topos , Radegund like Christ becomes the pious servant of 
the poor and a “new Martha” who busies herself with her household. 112 

In a more spiritual display of maternal attention, Radegund provides 
saintly intercession for one female pilgrim named Mammezo suffering 
from a vision problem. Mammezo ’s prayer to Radegund resembles the 
Ave Maria in both form and content: 113 

Mothers and Families 91 

Lady Radegund! I believe that you who follow God’s will above 
man’s are full of God’s virtue! Good lady, full of piety, have mercy 
on me. Help an unhappy woman, pray that my eye will be restored 
for my spirit is grievously stricken by this tormenting pain. 114 

Like the Ave Maria, Mammezo’s prayer begins with an appellation and 
praise (Hail Mary, full of grace, blessed are you among women) and ends 
with a petition for intercession (pray for us now and at the hour of our 
death). Radegund, as Mary with her Son, becomes the intermediary for 
her adopted kin. Gregory of Tours compared Radegund’s countenance 
at her death with the “Lord’s holy mother herself.” 115 

Monastic complexes especially provided important venues for Mero- 
vingian holy women to display their maternal and spiritual authority. 
Not only did these women (as abbesses) distribute wealth to the poor 
and establish important pilgrimage sites, but they also served as the 
mother (mater) for their new daughters. As leaders and spiritual guides, 
they supplied food, clothing, and miraculous healing for their extended 
families. Rusticula, abbess of Arles (d. ca. 632), tended her household 
with such pious zeal that “all called her lady and pious mother.” 116 At her 
death, her body was placed in Saint Mary’s Basilica, at the right side of 
the altar, dedicated in her virginity. 

Instead of providing a monastic paradigm, Fatima’s authorization 
of Shkite doctrine enabled the increasing identification of those within 
the family and those without, that is, those members of the Shi" a and 
then everyone else. As the dialectic between Shkite and Sunni theol- 
ogy evolved in the tenth century, theologians relied on Fatima to her- 
ald Shkite orthodoxy. Sectarian literature frequently promoted Fatima 
as the Muslim community’s most excellent woman in opposition to the 
Sunni affection for Misha, Muhammad’s beloved wife. The conflicts 
between Fatima and Misha reflected more than just familial jealousies 
and contentions; they exposed questions of political authority posed by 
each sect’s interpretation of who should act as Muhammad’s legitimate 

Sunni theologians challenged the Shkite exaltation of the holy family 
by honoring the Prophet’s beloved companions, Abu Bakr, "Umar, "Uth- 
man, and "Ali (the four Rightly Guided Ones, or Rashidun). According 
to Sunni traditions, the Prophet appointed Abu Bakr as his legitimate 

92 Chosen among Women 

successor with no preference for Ali; Abu Bakr and the following three 
caliphs, as companions, were the most excellent choice. 

As Sunni authors exalted Abu Bakr, they also advanced 'A’isha bint 
Abi Bakr, Abu Bakr’s daughter and Muhammad’s young wife, as the femi- 
nine ideal. Reports linked Abu Bakr’s and 'A’isha’s legitimacy through 
parallel honorific titles. Abu Bakr, for example, is known as the truthful 
man (al-siddiq)\ 'A’isha becomes the truthful woman (al-siddiqa). ul Another 
tradition relates that Muhammad designated 'A’isha as his most beloved 
among the people and her father as the most beloved among men. 118 

Shkite traditions, to the contrary, present v Ali as Muhammad’s 
rightful successor and Abu Bakr as a usurper. Shkite rhetoric also trans- 
forms "A’isha from the Prophet’s beloved wife into Fatima’s antithesis 
by detailing her jealousies, adulterous tendencies, and political deceits. 
Instead of representing the virtues of virgin, mother, and bride, "A’isha 
exemplifies corruption. 

Shkite authors emphasize one episode that casts doubt on 'A’isha’s 
loyalty to the Prophet (known in the texts as the tradition of the lie, or 
hadith al-ifk). According to this account, the Prophet and his young bride 
were traveling together after a raid on the Banu Mustaliq and stopped to 
rest during the night. During the repose, 'A’isha realized she had lost the 
necklace she was wearing; so she exited her litter and began to look for it. 
When the caravan began to move again, no one realized 'A’isha’s absence 
(apparently she was light). 119 One of the Prophet’s soldiers traveling be- 
hind the caravan found her and accompanied her back to the army. The 
Medinans heard about the adventure, placing the Prophet’s wife alone 
in the presence of a male, and began to make accusations against her. 
According to Sunni interpretation, the Prophet then received the first of 
nine Qur’anic verses (24:1 1) that defended 'A’isha: 

Those who brought forward the lie are a body among yourselves; 
think it not to be an evil to you; on the contrary it is good for you. 
To every man among them [will come the punishment] of the sin 
that he earned, and to him who took on himself the lead among 
them, will be a grievous chastisement. 120 

Allah himself (via Muhammad) exonerated "A’isha from the lies and ru- 
mors circulating about her adulterous affair. For Shkite interpreters, the 

Mothers and Families 93 

event provided a powerful opportunity to question the loyalty of "A’isha 
and, implicitly, some of the Prophet’s closest companions. 

In retaliation against Shfite suspicions, Sunni authors maligned a 
genre of hadith allegedly promulgated by the Shi"ites against the Proph- 
et’s companions ( sahaba ). From the Sunni perspective, the earliest Shfite 
community wrongfully denounced and even cursed the Prophets’ clos- 
est and most beloved associates, thus implying their blasphemy and dis- 
loyalty. This accusation is not entirely a rhetorical ploy. The early Shf a 
did question the loyalty and honesty of the first Islamic generation — men 
such as Abu Bakr, "Umar, and "Uthman. 121 If after all Muhammad des- 
ignated Ali as his rightful successor, then these so-called companions 
had betrayed that designation and seized "Ali’s position. One tradition 
recounts the event of the mountain pass, al-"Aqaba, wherein the Prophet’s 
companions and his beloved wife plotted to destroy him. 122 

According to the account of al-"Aqaba, Muhammad realized the end 
of his life was approaching and related to Misha that he planned to pub- 
licly appoint "Ali his successor. "A’isha then disclosed the news to "Umar’s 
daughter Hafsa and other conspirators who planned to prevent Muham- 
mad’s acknowledgment of "Ali and the ahl al-bayt. They then planned to 
ambush the Prophet at the Harsha pass along the Mecca-Medinan road. 
The angel Gabriel interceded and commanded the Prophet to announce 
his decision earlier than planned at Ghadir Khumm. After the disclosure 
the companions decided to continue their plot, hoping to disrupt "Ali’s 

At the mountain pass Allah again intervened and saved the Prophet 
from his companions and treacherous wife. The plotters released a num- 
ber of crawling insects in the hope that Muhammad’s she-camel would 
become crazed and throw him off. As the beast became frightened, 
Muhammad soothed her, and Allah caused her to speak and promise 
that she would never be diverted from her path as long as she bore the 
Messenger of God. 123 Lightning then flashed through the heavens and 
revealed the traitors, including Abu Bakr, "Umar, "Uthman, and Talha. 
The Prophet decided not to execute them to retain unity within the 
community ( umma ). "A’isha, the most revered woman in Sunni circles 
(second, perhaps, only to Khadija, Muhammad’s first wife) and the 
transmitter of so many hadith, joins the ranks of conspirators against 
the Prophet’s life. 

94 Chosen among Women 

Sunni and ShFite hadith transmitters also projected their struggle 
for legitimacy into the domestic sphere as they set "A’isha and Fatima 
in personal opposition. In Sunni hadith collections, such as al-Bukhari, 
Fatima appears as a weak and spoiled daughter of the umma ? s prominent 
leader. 124 In one account Fatima went to her father complaining about 
the blisters on her hands from grinding a stone hand-mill. She had heard 
that the Prophet recently received additional slave girls and hoped that 
he would provide her with help. Because her father was not home when 
she visited, Fatima related the message to "A’isha, who later conveyed the 
request to the Prophet. That night the Prophet visited Ali and Fatima 
and admonished them for their laziness. He commanded them to recite 
Allah’s name and praises instead of seeking servants. 

ShFite hadith collectors provided a provocatively different descrip- 
tion of Fatima’s character and relationship to her father. In a similar 
transmission, Fatima faithfully ground barley for her family while the 
wheel caused the skin on her hand to tear and bleed. She persevered. 
When Ali and the Prophet later arrived, they found Fatima asleep at the 
wheel, nursing her son at her breast, while the mill miraculously moved 
by itself (or by the hand of an angel). The Prophet wondered at Allah’s 
care for his daughter and then reassured her (and the family) that the 
sufferings they endured in this life would disappear in the next. 125 This 
hadith identifies Fatima as the mother, nurturer, and provider while also 
promising her family (i.e., the Shi v a) eternal rest and reward. 

Medieval ShFite authors effectively transformed Fatima into an 
identity marker for their community. As the Shi" a defined itself, its ori- 
gins, and its political agenda, it had to set itself apart from other sectarian 
groups. One of the most important ways to achieve this identity was to 
emphasize the ahl al-bayt and Fatima’s role therein. 

ShFite hadith replaced any mundane understanding of the Prophet’s 
family with the sublime understanding of the preexistent Imams. Sunni 
traditions also pitted "A’isha’s piety against Fatima’s weakness, "A’isha’s 
loyalty against Fatima’s groanings. ShFite scholars presented their own 
picture of Fatima’s sublime character based on her miraculous origin and 
absolute purity. These scholars invoked "A’isha and Fatima to think about 
their orthodox theologies and to further define the boundaries of their 

Mothers and Families 95 

Right Gender 

Medieval male authors used Mary and Fatima to think about theological 
and political matters. Their textual bodies became commentaries and di- 
rectives regarding doctrinal formulations, sectarian identities, and com- 
munal boundaries. At the same time there remains the agenda to regulate 
and reestablish traditional notions of gender, authority, and power. Male 
authors identify Mary’s and Fatima’s central (even miraculous) positions 
in the domestic sphere as virgins, mothers, and brides, but they also be- 
tray an attempt by patriarchal forces to arrogate to themselves the sov- 
ereignty of that sphere. 

In early medieval Gaul, Mary and the maternal paradigm defined 
many of the evolving orthodoxies among the clergy and royalty alike. 
Mary’s miracles confirmed Catholic orthodoxy against Jewish and Arian 
opposition; this also offered implicit sanctification to the Franks since 
many of their enemies, including the Goths, remained Arian. New mo- 
nastic houses trained their abbesses and noblewomen to act as holy moth- 
ers on the model of Mary. Mary provided the sublime archetype for the 
cloistered life: according to the Protevangeliwn of James, she had resided 
first within the Temple walls and then Joseph’s domus. Caesarius’s Rule 
for Nuns , which required strict claustration, promised his virgins they 
would “receive crowns of glory together with holy Mary” in paradise. 126 

On the one hand, Marian rhetoric opened the way for change: con- 
sider the freedoms available to consecrated women entering the mo- 
nastic life. Many women fled forced marriages by entering the convent 
and becoming mystically united with the Virgin Mary as new brides 
of Christ. 127 Wealthy noblewomen often served as abbesses and main- 
tained control over the convent’s finances as well as, in many cases, their 
family’s property donated as the house’s foundation. That property re- 
mained protected as abbesses named sisters, daughters, and nieces as the 
community’s succeeding mothers. 128 The monastic life presented many 
wealthy noblewomen with the means to control their wealth, status, and 
authority; and perhaps even women of lower social status found a way to 
survive on their own. 129 Once again, the early Middle Ages uniquely al- 
lows public/private power to coincide; women’s access to heavenly privi- 
lege often depended on her earthly position within the family. 130 More 

96 Chosen among Women 

often than not, abbesses and female saints harmonized with the institu- 
tions of motherhood and royal marriage. 

On the other hand, some monastic regulae seem to curb the poten- 
tial for female autonomy and spiritual independence by instructing holy 
women to eschew their mundane families and wealth to embrace their 
new spiritual kin as equals. 131 Caesarius maintains that nuns should not 
receive anything personal from family members, whether it be a letter 
or gifts, unless it is thoroughly reviewed by the abbess. 132 He also re- 
quired that familial visits be supervised by a senior sister if not the abbess 
herself. 133 By promoting a spiritual equality among a spiritual kin, mo- 
nastic rules sought to weaken that very privatized power that Merovin- 
gian women wielded through their earthly families. Perhaps because 
consanguinial relationships were so important and the women’s position 
within them so imperative to their spiritual power, these spiritual ideals 
remained just that, ideals. Aristocratic women continued to claim their 
place as leaders of estate-monasteries, disregarding the piety of lowborn 
sisters, even if that meant public scandal. 

Monastic rules of the Merovingian period, including the rules of 
Ceasarius of Arles and Donatus of Besangon, managed to curtail the influ- 
ence of female monastics more effectively by requiring strict claustration 
in women’s houses. 134 This certainly reflected a real, physical danger to 
women’s houses as targets of violence and rape; chronicles and histories 
alike repeat the threats of tribal rivalries and (later) Viking raids. These 
rules recognized the need to provide convents with additional protection, 
especially within city walls. 135 Yet the prominent bishops and clerical lead- 
ers who formulated the rules moved beyond practical concerns for wom- 
en’s lives and promoted a notion of right (or acceptable) gender roles. 

Merovingian monastic rules and church councils, by delineating so 
exactly the expectations for nuns, effectively denied alternative forms of 
the consecrated life such as widowhood and clerical offices. Although 
early church practices had esteemed the ranks of widows and deacon- 
esses, Merovingian theologians argued that life outside the monastery 
was indeed too dangerous and less perfect. Church councils made it clear 
that only the clergy could grant the privilege of living a consecrated life 
outside the convent walls. Some councils even made provisions for failure: 
the Council of St.-Jean-de-Losne in 673-75 ordered that women who did 
gain priestly permission to live a religious life at home be incarcerated 

Mothers and Families 97 

in a monastery should they disregard their chastity. 136 The Council of 
Orleans, 533, proclaimed that women were too weak to perform any type 
of semipriestly work amid the struggles of the secular world and decreed 
that “after this no women are to be granted the diaconal benediction be- 
cause of the fragility of their condition.” 137 Expectations of and possibili- 
ties for religious women effectively dwindled under episcopal legislation. 

The male clergy also arrogated to itself the traditional notions of 
domestic authority and household management. Even under the rule of 
strict claustration, priests (who were not necessarily monks) were required 
to consecrate the Eucharist. 138 No matter what the ideals of separation, 
purity, and enclosure, the community had to allow at least one male to 
enter its walls. The priest symbolically appropriated to himself the do- 
mestic space of the mother/abbess and her family; he both consecrated 
and fed the community as an altar servant. Mary’s nurturing role had 
been usurped by her male sons. Even in economic terms, bishops and 
priests increasingly ignored Caesarius’s inclination to allow the abbess 
financial autonomy and instead appointed kings’ officers and bishops as 
overseers and procurators for the female communities. 139 

A similar rhetorical twist occurred in Shi'ite Islam as medieval theo- 
logians and scholars successfully seized Fatima’s authority as the ahl al- 
bayt’s sublime matriarch. At first Fatima’s influence within the family 
seemingly challenged traditional notions of gender designations. Mu- 
hammad miraculously “conceived” Fatima from paradise after ingesting 
a beautiful fruit; Allah favored her above Hawwa’, which resulted in the 
first sin of envy; Fatima remained perpetually pure, avoiding menstrua- 
tion, rendering her symbolically male; she identifies who belongs within 
her beloved (and spiritual) family; and on judgment day she will inter- 
cede for her progeny and rescue them from the hellfire. Fatima, like 
Mary, defines the boundaries of her spiritual and mundane communities 
because of her domestic authority. 140 

Also like Mary, Fatima’s male heirs assimilated to themselves the 
matriarch’s authority from the domestic sphere and emphasized Fatima 
as the obedient and submissive virgin, mother, and bride. The leaders 
of the Shkites had always been the Imams; Fatima and her sons pro- 
vided the spiritual and sometimes political guidance for their commu- 
nity. Shkite theologians labeled them infallible (' isma ) and responsible 
for spiritual guidance (walaya). After the twelfth Imam went into hiding, 

98 Chosen among Women 

or occultation, the community faced a crisis of leadership. From that 
crisis the Shi'ite scholars, or the ' ulama\ asserted their authority. 141 The 
scholars and theologians, rather than a centralized Christian clergy, de- 
cided on legal questions and theological matters through logical reason- 
ing ( ijtihad ). 

The ' ulama\ the symbolic heirs to the ahl al-bayt , also promoted the 
theology of agreement ( ijma v ). When the community of scholars reaches 
consensus it must be correct because the Imam would never allow his 
community to deviate into error. The scholars are educated males, 
trained at religious colleges (madrasa), promising to lead the Shi" a for 
the Hidden Imam. 142 

As with Mary, the authority of the domestic, the family, passes from 
their powerful matriarchs to the male heirs, those bishops, priests, and 
Shi"ite clerics who negotiate between the public and private spheres. 
Mary and Fatima provide the right gender model for women to emulate: 
active within the domestic sphere as virgin, mother, and bride, yet yield- 
ing to masculine, public authority as holy handmaids. 

Despite male hagiographers’ placement of Mary and Fatima largely 
in the domestic sphere, their adoration became very public throughout 
material culture. While the authors’ texts successfully advertised Mary’s 
and Fatima’s holy prowess, material objects spoke a language of piety 
all their own. Christians and Shfite Muslims constructed edifices, ritual 
items, and simple articles of beauty that not only reinforced but also 
shaped identity. 

Chapter Five 

Sacred Art and Architecture 

Holy Women in Built Form 

Early medieval Christians and Muslims created artistic images to illus- 
trate their cosmologies and theologies in the social sphere. Much like 
hagiographers and theologians, artists and architects employed Mary 
and Fatima as symbols in their chosen space to depict constantly shift- 
ing theologies, political agendas, and gender expectations . 1 Material 
culture — including Christian churches, Muslim mosques, and Shkite 
amulets — conveyed these cues that continuously shaped and reinforced 
communal identity. As early Christian artisans pictured Mary holding 
Jesus instead of oriental gods and goddesses and Safavid royalty com- 
missioned the ahl al-bayfs names engraved in mosques, they effectively 
evoked a religious orthodoxy for their communities to recognize . 2 

The creation of such visual displays and material culture did not 
proceed without considerable debate and even bloodshed. Since each 
group was rooted in monotheism and revered the commandment that 
proclaimed God’s oneness and prohibited strange gods, each had to ne- 
gotiate the conflict between its desire for certain representations and this 
ancient law against them . 3 In the end, they came to different conclusions: 
Christians allowed material and artistic displays because they saw their 
pedagogical value . 4 Muslims rejected images as idolatrous, holding es- 
sentially the same ideals that one can find in ancient Judaism, although 


100 Chosen among Women 

eventually Islam found a way to translate its beliefs into built form. 5 
Where Christians used statues and icons; Muslims defined sacred space 
and piety in calligraphy, geometric and floral designs, and grand archi- 
tectural schemes. 

When Christians and Muslims in the early medieval period searched 
for appropriate ways to “picture” their relationships with God, they were 
drawn to Mary and Fatima whose stories and reputed powers linked them 
and their families with intercessory and religious authority. Although 
their theologies and traditions had different approaches to the use of re- 
ligious images, architects and artists transformed these holy women into 
holy heroines of visual culture. The hagiographic tales and rhetorical 
twists narrated by medieval texts came alive in pictorial displays, sculp- 
ture, religious artifacts, amulets, and architecture. 

Christian and Islamic artists and architects emphasized their par- 
ticular theologies as they transformed Mary and Fatima into visual form. 
Some of the earliest Western depictions of Mary appear in the third- 
century Roman catacombs and the Italian basilica Santa Maria Mag- 
giore. This church contains fifth-century mosaics of both Old and New 
Testament scenes that either foreshadow or reveal Christ’s birth along 
with Mary’s miraculous participation. Unfortunately, no Merovingian 
counterparts survive aboveground. Several hagiographies, however, do 
describe architecture and artifacts dedicated to Mary, and many of the 
chapels boasted of Marian relics. 

Shfite artists and architects presented Fatima in much more sym- 
bolic terms and usually along with the ahl al-hayCs other members. In 
some hadith Fatima assumes the function of a mihrab (the prayer niche 
in mosques that points toward Mecca). According to one transmission, 
Fatima stood in her prayer chamber and emitted a light that permeated 
the city. Muhammad instructed his community to orient themselves to- 
ward Fatima’s light while praying. 6 This miracle illustrates one of Fati- 
ma’s most famous epithets, Fatima al-Zahra (the Radiant). Some Shf ite 
hagiographers later associated that mysterious light with the lamps that 
hang from prayer niches in mosques. 7 Fatima, symbolized by the lamp, 
also marks the way to the Ka'ba. She stands in the space between the 
profane and the sacred, the supplicant and Allah, earth and paradise. 

ShFite calligraphers recalled the holy family’s sublime authority 
by inscribing Qur’anic verses, prayers, ShFite hadith, and the Imams’ 

Sacred Art and Architecture 101 

names throughout mosques. Two Iranian mosques constructed in the 
medieval period provide evidence of ShFite Muslims’ adoration for the 
holy family. The mosque/mausoleum Gunbad-i AJawiyan at Hamadan 
incorporates popular Shhite verses into its architectural design; and 
Fatima al-Ma'suma’s shrine (the eighth Imam’s sister) also contains cal- 
ligraphic inscriptions praising the ahl al-bayt . 8 

Shf ites also celebrated the family’s power in a (perhaps) less subtle 
manner; amulets of the human hand signified their status and served as 
talismans against malevolent forces, or, more specifically, the evil eye. In 
Middle Eastern culture, the evil eye is associated with envy, much like 
the envy Eve cast to Fatima’s preexistent form in paradise. According 
to Shfite interpretation, each digit on the talisman represents a family 
member: Muhammad, Fatima, Ali, Hasan, and Husayn. These amulets, 
popularizing the holy family’s authority, appear on everything from legal 
documents to jewelry. 

Whether in churches or mosques, relics or amulets, Mary and 
Fatima enshrined basic issues of theology, politics, and gender designa- 
tion. Their depictions in social (and sacred) space elevated these holy 
women as symbols of sublime truth, representatives of God, and prom- 
ises of paradise. 

Images or Idols? 

It might at first seem odd to find amulets, statuary, and some represen- 
tational images of holy men and women in traditions that were rooted 
in a radical monotheism that recognized and worshiped only one God 
and forbade graven images. Yet for both Christians and Muslims, intent 
ultimately defined the image as licit or illicit. In early Christianity licit 
use enhanced the petitioner’s memory of God and the saints, whereas 
illicit images distracted from God and pointed to another (usually de- 
monic) source of power. 9 Christian apologists even argued that God 
sanctified matter as witness to his divinity: pieces of the true cross pro- 
vided the most popular case in point. Jesus’ direct contact transformed 
these bits of wood into holy relics. While the Jews might view them 
as wooden idols, Christian theologians argued that the wooden sliv- 
ers were licit because of their allusion to the crucifixion. Any aspect of 

102 Chosen among Women 

material culture could ultimately serve as a medium for the creature to 
worship the creator. 

Unlike Christianity, Islam regarded any human or animal figures in 
sacred space (both public and private) as illicit 10 and promoted geomet- 
ric, floral, and epigraphic ornamentation as its own distinctive pattern of 
symbols. 11 This rejection of figural displays reveals much about Islamic 
theology and society beginning with its most holy text, the Qur’an. 12 The 
Qur’an, unlike the Christian Bible, lacks a principal narrative strain. Be- 
cause it contains discriminate injunctions, poetry, laws, and fragmented 
tales of prophets and pious heroes, the Qur’an does not lend itself readily 
to pictorial display. The Bible, on the other hand, tells a series of stories 
that beg to be transformed into visual form. The Qur’an is experienced 
most profoundly in an aural medium — hearing the word of Allah, mem- 
orized and recited aloud. 

Islam (as both a religious and social movement) burst onto the his- 
torical stage as a world power in the seventh and eighth centuries. Matur- 
ing alongside the Byzantine Empire, Muslim theologians and lawgivers 
considered similar questions to those that vexed the Byzantines. 13 At that 
historical moment, the iconoclast movement split the political and theo- 
logical Byzantine world into opposing groups. Muslim theologians, after 
observing their neighbors’ strife, discouraged the fabrication of images. 
One collection of hadith recounts: 

The angels will not enter a house in which there is a picture or a dog. 
Those who will be most severely punished on the Day of Judgement 
are the murderer of a Prophet, one who has been put to death by a 
Prophet, one who leads men astray without knowledge, and a maker 
of images or pictures. . . . The Sorcerer is he who has invented lies 
against God; the maker of images or pictures is the enemy of God; 
and he who acts in order to be seen of men, is he that has made light 
of God. 14 

Theologians thus doomed the image maker, whether Arab or Greek, to 
Allah’s eternal wrath. In so doing, the Islamic empire further segregated 
itself from the Byzantine world. 

By rejecting images and icons, Islamic theologians were not simply 
joining the ranks of the iconoclasts. Islam opposed not so much the image 

Sacred Art and Architecture 103 

as the image maker. In several diatribes on images, Muslims argued that 
the creators of images or icons actually competed with Allah as the sole 
fashioner of creation. 15 To generate an image impinged on Allah’s One- 
ness (i tawhid ) in the grave sin of idolatry {shirk). The Islamic community 
thus articulated both theological and political tenets through its artis- 
tic displays. Its distinctive, aniconic theology distinguished it from its 
Christian, Jewish, and Zoroastrian competitors. Through material cul- 
ture, the Islamic community discovered another venue to both formulate 
and assert its identity. 

Mary in Built Form 

Some of the earliest images of Mary in Western art functioned in just 
such a way by alluding to biblical narratives and theological orthodoxy. 
Some historians claim that early Christianity borrowed symbols from an- 
cient mother-goddesses in an attempt to acclimate pagan audiences to this 
new religion. 16 The Virgin, so the argument goes, replaced the feminine 
principle that pagan religions associated with the earth and fertility cults; 
her image, a new Divine Mother, made Christianity familiar and more 
attractive to prospective converts. The earliest images of the Madonna 
and Child, for example, bear a striking resemblance to Isis and Horus ef- 
figies: Isis, the Egyptian goddess who resurrected her murdered husband, 
Osiris, with her beloved son, a god of the underworld, Horus. 17 

While ancient goddesses might serve as prototypes for Marian im- 
ages, Mary certainly represented something very different for her Chris- 
tian audience. The earliest Western representation of the Madonna and 
Child is found in the Priscilla catacomb in Rome, a fresco presumably 
constructed in the third century. In this depiction Mary as Mother holds 
the Christ child, apparently nursing him at her breast (fig. 1). This por- 
trayal suggests an intercessory function; Mary, the mother of God, pro- 
vides a type of bridge that reaches from divinity to humanity. 18 Not only 
did her Son fill that abyss, but the supplicant can also reach the Divine 
through the mother’s intercession. The cult of Mary’s breast milk con- 
firms her intercessory role — this relic probably circulated as early as the 
seventh century. 19 Through adoration of the Mother’s milk, pious Chris- 
tians gained access to the throne of God. 

Figure 1. Fragment of fresco with Madonna, Catacomb of Priscilla, Rome. 
Photo courtesy of Art Resource. 

Sacred Art and Architecture 105 

Marian imagery continued to proliferate throughout the early me- 
dieval period and benefited from the artistic influences of northern Af- 
rica and the Greek East. These influences, including some distinctively 
Greek aspects of Marian iconography, make early medieval architecture 
particularly diverse. Early medieval architects, for example, included sev- 
eral variations on the standard T-model basilica — a central nave divided 
by four aisles and a long, narrow transept ending with the apse — first 
appearing in St. Peter’s Basilica. 20 Santa Maria Maggiore provides a per- 
fect example of early medieval variance as it surrendered its transept and 
introduced new forms of adornment. 21 

Santa Maria Maggiore, a grand Italian edifice dedicated to the Vir- 
gin Mary by Pope Sixtus III (43 2-40), 22 celebrated the recent Council 
of Ephesus’s pronouncement that Mary was indeed the Theotokos. Ac- 
cording to tradition, Mary also played a part in the church’s construction; 
she appeared to a patrician Roman couple and instructed them to erect a 
church dedicated to her. The morning after that miraculous encounter, 
August 5, the couple found snow on the Esquiline hill. The Virgin had 
also visited Pope Liberius (3 52-66), who marked the outlines of the origi- 
nal church in the snow and then ordered its completion. Pope Sixtus III 
later carried out the sublime request. The church’s construction, and the 
original mosaics that survive, might be viewed as the pope’s public decla- 
ration of Christianity’s triumph over pagan and Jewish heresies alike. 23 

Unlike its Roman counterparts, Santa Maria Maggiore did not limit 
pictorial displays to the apse area but contained rows of mosaics along the 
nave itself. These mosaics displayed in built form the once-prophesied 
and then fulfilled Christian theology. The basilica’s upper nave origi- 
nally contained forty-two mosaics depicting various scenes from the Old 
Testament lives of Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and Joshua, among others. 24 
As worshipers walked through this holy space, they witnessed the most 
important themes of salvation history: promise and sacrifice. 25 Old Tes- 
tament figures either prophesied or signified the most pivotal moment 
in human history — the coming of the Messiah. The arch showed this 
promise fulfilled with illustrations of Christ’s nativity, including the An- 
nunciation and various events in the God-Man’s childhood. These im- 
ages operated not only as a perspective into human history, reminding 
the viewer that all human experience culminated in Christ, but also as an 
affective visual devise transporting the viewer from fifth-century Rome 

106 Chosen among Women 

to biblical Palestine. 26 The images, in a sense, created their own holy 
place ( loca sancta) to review the biblical moments of Mary’s obedience 
and Christ’s conception. 

These nave images, largely limited to Abraham, Moses, and Joshua, 
demonstrated the Old Testament’s prefiguring of New Testament 
events. In one mosaic Melchizedek extends bread and wine to Abraham 
as an ancient symbol of the Eucharist; 27 there stands a chalice in front of 
Melchizedek to emphasize the sublime analogy (fig. 2). Another image 
introduces the ark of the covenant, a seemingly heavy burden borne 
by Jews. This image might prefigure the God-Man held within Mary’s 
womb; the ark, like Mary’s container- womb, contains the Manna and 
Law for humanity (fig. 3). 

The nave led to the apse where, no longer extant, Mary probably 
sat on a throne holding Christ on her lap, surrounded by angels, mar- 
tyrs, and Pope Sixtus himself. 28 Santa Maria Maggiore celebrated Mary’s 
participation in Christ’s miraculous birth, successfully translating early 
Christian theology about Mary into visual, built form. 

Merovingian artistic and architectural references to Mary are more 
difficult to trace as few survive. According to hagiographic accounts, 
many abbesses enhanced and even justified their authority by aligning 
themselves with the Virgin Mary in heaven. They built churches dedi- 
cated to Mary; they advertised personal miracles that Mary performed 
for them in the holy spaces they constructed; and they contended for the 
prize burial positions nearest the front altars usually dedicated to Mary 
and the apostles. 

Several Merovingian queens and abbesses abandoned their worldly 
stations to construct churches and monasteries where they planned to 
govern as spiritual mothers in imitation of Mary. Eustadiola of Bourges 
(c. 594-684) converted all of her homes to Marian basilicas and then built 
a monastery for herself and her maids. At the churches she offered great 
riches: gold and silver vessels, chalices, beautiful crosses and candelabra. 
In her own monastic house, God’s handmaid attracted several followers 
and became a “mother of the monastery.” 29 In the poetic description of 
her maternal sacrifices, Eustadiola resembled a new Mary, actively gov- 
erning her spiritual family in imitation of her heavenly prototype. 

Many other Merovingian queens constructed Marian edifices and 
then boasted personal miracles performed by the Holy Mother. Saint 

Figure 2. Abraham and Melchizedek. Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome. 
Photo courtesy of Art Resource. 

Figure 3. The Ark of the Covenant being carried across the Jordan. Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome. Photo courtesy of 
Art Resource. 

Sacred Art and Architecture 109 

Clothild commissioned a Marian church to be built on the Seine where 
many miracles occurred; 30 Radegund finally gained her freedom from 
King Clothar at an oratory dedicated to Mary; 31 and Rusticula was buried 
in Saint Mary’s Basilica, to the altar’s right hand. 32 In all these instances, 
holy women sought association with Marian edifices where miracles im- 
mediately followed. Because of that alliance both the Marian cult and the 
holy women themselves gained spiritual prestige. 

Spiritual authority did not simply end at death, however. Accord- 
ing to her hagiographers, immediately after her death Rusticula’s soul 
ascended to Christ’s right hand, although her corpse remained at the 
right side of Mary’s altar in a Marian basilica. Rusticula had finally joined 
the heavenly “chorus of virgins in which the Blessed Virgin Mary holds 
first place.” 33 Yet Rusticula was not absent from her community; even 
from heaven she guarded her flock as a pious mother. In many of her 
postmortem miracles, she cured the sick “handmaids of Christ” at her 
convent. Her hagiographer noted that even after death this holy mother 
(Rusticula, not the Virgin Mary) “exercised the same care and solicitude 
as when she was living in the body.” 34 

Glodesind, abbess at Metz, also governed her convent from beyond 
the grave. Her biographer recognized that the abbess, after her body’s 
interment at a Marian church, “still rules though she rests in her grave.” 35 
Monastic families were thus seldom separated; earthly virgins identified 
with the chorus of heavenly virgins singing at the throne of God while 
their spiritual mothers sat by Mary’s right hand. Marian altars and ba- 
silicas were visual reminders of her sublime position, as well as her au- 
thority, an authority that could sometimes be lent to prominent abbesses 
who governed in her name. 

Many abbesses were not satisfied with sitting at Mary’s right hand 
in heaven; they also wanted their bodies to rest near the high altars of 
their churches. This sometimes required miraculous intervention be- 
cause the male clergy, as altar servants, ultimately controlled the altar 
and its surrounding sacred space. The clergy’s authority only multiplied 
as the attention to relics and dead body parts proliferated throughout 
Merovingian Gaul. 

As saint veneration became more popular in the early Middle Ages, 
church architecture had to change. Late antique church styles had limited 
the number of people who could directly encounter the holy relics; but by 

110 Chosen among Women 

the fifth century more people wanted greater access to the holy. Church 
councils soon encouraged all altars to include relics of a saintly bishop 
or martyr; the Fifth Council of Carthage in 40 1 even declared that altars 
without dead body parts should be destroyed. 36 Pious congregations also 
required that saints’ relics be visible and accessible: Christians desired ad- 
mittance to the relics in order to kiss, touch, or bow to them. The Church 
of Mary’s Tomb in Gethsemane provided a series of slots so that pilgrims 
could insert their hands and feel the sarcophagus. 37 Close proximity to 
the holy was indeed a prized treasure, and early Medieval architectural 
innovations had to allow some direct access (however limited). 

Merovingian architects had to contend first with the issue of space. 
The earliest church altars had restricted any direct contact between peti- 
tioners and holy relics because they were constructed over the lower lev- 
els of catacombs. Priests conducted mass over the small crypts, but only 
small groups of people entered the modest space. As the saints’ popularity 
grew, architects incorporated shafts that reached from the altar on the 
main level to the tombs below. 38 Pious petitioners could communicate 
with the saints down the shafts or lower items to touch the holy crypts 
(thus creating contact relics). 39 With the Merovingians, church builders 
moved the tombs to the main levels and displayed the holy relics in the 
church’s holy space. Hagiographers often characterized the saint’s pres- 
ence as a celestial light permeating the room; and, they claimed, this ra- 
diance touched not only the heart but also the soul. Gregory of Tours 
described Mary’s relics as a “radiating light” from the altar at Clermont. 40 
Everyone in the vast space then had virtual proximity to the holy. 

The clergy, however, did not surrender control of the relic itself. 
Either in a barricaded oratory or through an enclosed shaft, the church 
tightened its regulation of the saint cults (thereby further mystifying the 
holy). This trend only accelerated. Whereas Merovingian hagiography 
encouraged its audience to kiss and touch holy items, Carolingian au- 
thors betrayed the impossibility of such proximity. By the late eighth 
century, Carolingian hagiographers enjoined their audience to gaze upon 
the holy wonders and glittering spectacles of the distant sarcophagi. 41 

In this hierarchical schema, with the most holy on display to the 
most pious, prominent bishops, abbots, and holy figures competed for 
eternal rest beside the high altar. Beginning in the sixth century, holy 
men and women might be interred within the church walls, but after 

Sacred Art and Architecture 111 

miraculous signs their bodies could advance toward the high altar. This 
prestigious spot was of course the place of great honor, and several saints 
expressed their desire to be promoted through miraculous visions. After 
proper exhumation, the saintly bodies (usually churchmen and abbesses 
from royal stock) could be moved down the aisle symbolically closer to 
Christ. 42 Saint Germanus of Paris (d. 576), for example, appeared to a 
pious woman two hundred years after his first burial and requested bet- 
ter accommodations behind the main altar. 43 

Glodesind of Metz also ordered (posthumously) that a church be 
erected to the Blessed Virgin Mary near her convent. After the church’s 
construction, the abbess’s body was disinterred and moved to its sec- 
ond resting place within the Marian church’s walls (ca. seventh century). 
Later, in 830, the bishop of Metz noticed that Glodesind’s tomb emerged 
from the earth. He reckoned this portent signaled Glodesind’s desire to 
move yet again. After much prayer the priests moved the holy corpse to a 
third and final resting place “in the monastery’s older church behind the 
altar which had been built and consecrated in praise of the Holy Mother 
of God, Mary, and Saint Peter, the Prince of the Apostles.” 44 After this 
final translation, Glodesind worked many miracles that attracted many 
pilgrims and enjoyed an even more revered status among her family’s 
dead. 45 By the seventh century holy bodies such as Glodesind’s could be 
moved at will to illustrate their celestial status but only after the approval 
of the male episcopacy. 

Fatima and the ahl al-bayt in Built Form 

Muslim artists neither decked walls with Fatima mosaics nor constructed 
statues in her likeness; yet Shfite material culture certainly realized her 
sublime station as mother and intercessor. One of the most poignant 
displays of Fatima’s sublime authority is present in the mosque itself. 
Some Shfite exegetes correlate Fatima with the mosque’s prayer niche, 
or mihrab . This architectural design might signify for a Shfite audience 
a visual metaphor for Fatima’s intercessory powers. 

The mihrab is one among many architectural designs that delineate 
and adorn the mosque as sacred space. The boundaries of that sacred 
space often shifted, however; the medieval mosque functioned equally 

112 Chosen among Women 

as a civic structure. Caliphs and local political authorities made public 
speeches from its stages; in the daytime it sometimes hosted trade shows; 
and at night it provided a shelter for the local homeless. 46 The mosque 
did maintain one distinct spiritual function: it offered a place of prayer 
( masjid , a place of prostration). 47 

As a sacred place of prayer, the mosque exhibited Qur’anic verses and 
prayers inscribed in Arabic calligraphy, a medieval art form in its own 
right. 48 This calligraphy was intended not only as decoration but also as a 
focus of meditation. The mosque also contained architectural styles that 
distinguished its spiritual function. The imam, or prayer leader (distinct 
from the Shhite Imams, descendants of AJi and Fatima), usually stood at 
a pulpit ( minbar ) to deliver his Friday sermon; ablution pools conferred 
ritual purity; and the Qur’an rested upon a chair {kursi) in high honor. 
All these elements might have contained elaborate calligraphic or even 
geometric ornamentation, or they might have remained quite plain. One 
of the true focal areas of the mosque was the mihrah , which functioned as 
a pointer of sorts; it oriented the worshiper toward Mecca for obligatory 

The mihrab has a complicated history. Its basic design, ascertained 
from both textual description and archaeological evidence, contains an 
arch, supporting columns, and the empty space between them. 49 Most 
scholars agree that in pre-Islamic Arabia the mihrab designated a place 
of royal ascendancy or a place of honor in palaces. 50 In religious contexts 
the mihrab referred to a sanctuary or holy place that probably housed 
cultic images. In ancient Semitic cultures it was probably portable; Bed- 
ouin tribes used it to transport their gods and, for early Jewish tribes, to 
orient themselves toward Jerusalem. 51 The mihrab in its religious func- 
tion symbolized a doorway from the mundane to the sacred, from this 
world to the next. 

Shfite hagiographers assimilate Fatima to this doorway, this empty 
space. In one hadith mentioned above, Fatima stands illuminating the 
Muslim community with her sublime light at times of obligatory prayer. 
Her father, Muhammad, commands his community to orient them- 
selves toward her. She becomes the mihrab , pointing her people toward 
Mecca. 52 Traditional mosque design places a hanging lamp within that 
mihrab and engraves either on the lamp itself or somewhere nearby the 
very pertinent Qur’anic Light Verse (24.3 5): 53 

Sacred Art and Architecture 113 

Allah is the Light of the heavens and earth. The parable of His Light 
is as if there were a niche and within it a lamp: the lamp enclosed in 
glass: the glass as it were a brilliant star. 

The mihrab' s design, as a visual metaphor, correlates the hanging lamp 
with Fatima, who contains within herself the light of the Imams (often 
associated with the star). Just as Mary provided an empty space for God 
to dwell, Fatima’s body enclosed the nur of the Imams. Residing in the 
symbolic portal between heaven and earth, Fatima offers the hope of 
intercession and prayer on behalf of her adopted kin. 

All Muslims, Sunni and Shi" i, associate the mihrab as a prayer portal 
pointing toward Mecca; but for Shfite viewers, the mihrab lamp might 
also signify Fatima’s intercessory station. Often Shfite artists chose 
to present the entire holy family rather than the holy mother alone. 
Throughout Iran and Iraq, for example, five hanging lamps often adorn 
a central mihrab symbolizing the five members of the ahl al-bayt , 54 Cal- 
ligraphic inscriptions of the Twelve Imams’ names and their miracles 
might also outline the mihrab , further identifying its Shfite audience. 55 

The association between Fatima and the mihrab , however symbolic, 
also resonates with Islamic traditions about Mary and her own mihrab. 56 
According to the Qur’an, Zechariah (John the Baptist’s father) cared for 
Mary after her parents dedicated her to the Temple. Each time Zechariah 
would visit his charge in her mihrab , he found her miraculously supplied 
with food (Qur’an 3.36-37). Muslim exegetes as early as the eighth century 
linked Mary’s mihrab with the Bayt al-Maqdis, a mosque in Jerusalem. 57 
Mary was believed to have lived in the mosque’s inner sanctum and there 
received food from Allah. By the eleventh century, pilgrimage guides com- 
bined Mary’s mihrab with "Isa’s (Jesus’) cradle, both located on the Tem- 
ple platform. 58 Ottoman Turks later engraved the verse describing Mary’s 
mihrab above their own mosques’ mihrabs. Mary, along with Fatima in 
Shfite tradition, remained closely linked with this prayer portal. 

Until recently most art historians have failed to appreciate fully the 
distinctions between Sunni and Shfite material culture. They have in- 
stead marginalized Shi" ism as a heterodoxy and categorized its styles as 
exceptional. Yet there is evidence that many forms of Islamic architecture 
held different meanings for Shfite communities and their Sunni counter- 
parts. Mausoleums constructed for the Imams and their families, for 

114 Chosen among Women 

example, played an important part in defining holy space. When Sunni 
Muslims conquered Shkite areas, they usually first sacked the shrines as 
a symbol of Shkite defeat, both physical and theological. While Shkite 
architects constructed and transformed mausoleums in a variety of pat- 
terns, they also built some with twelve sides representing the Twelve 
Imams. Distinctively Shkite interpretation of Islamic art and architec- 
ture has yet to be fully explored. 

One current study has attempted to fill that scholarly lacuna by exam- 
ining the mosque /mausoleum Gunbad-i "Alawiyan at Hamadan, Iran. 59 
Through comparative analysis, the work isolated some basic Shkite ar- 
chitectural and commemorative patterns. First, at the Hamadan mosque 
twelve arches line the interior lower division; this might refer to the 
Twelve Imams. Each of the corner towers contain a series of five arched 
units that might signify the ahl al-bayt . 60 Second, the interior and exte- 
rior walls incorporate popular Qur’anic verses among Shkite mosques. 61 
Qur’an 5.55, for example, explains: 62 

Your [real] friends are [no less than] Allah, His Messenger, and the 

Believers — those who establish regular prayers and pay zakat [or 

tithes] and they bow down humbly [in worship] . 

At first this verse appears rather nonsectarian: it repeats the basic for- 
mulation of the faith ( shahada ) by reaffirming Allah and his messenger, 
Muhammad; and it introduces some of the basic tenets of ritual praxis 
(prayer, tithing, etc.). According to the twelfth-century Shkite exegete al- 
Fadl ibn al-Hasan al-Tabarsi, this passage discloses an esoteric message 
commending Ali and the ahl al-bayt . 63 The “believers,” says al-Tabarsi, 
should be read in the singular, and that singular believer refers to "Ali: 
“Your (real) friends are (no less than) Allah and His messenger and Ali” 
According to this interpretation, Allah ordained "Ali (and his implied 
family) as his intercessor just as the prophet Muhammad. The Shkite ex- 
egete and the calligraphic inscription reminds the viewer of the family’s 
exalted status. 

Finally, the Hamadan mosque/mausoleum incorporates a mihrab 
adorned in a Shkite pattern. Like most other prayer niches, even those of 
Sunni persuasion, this mihrab includes the Throne Verse (Qur’an 2.255): 

Sacred Art and Architecture 115 

He knows what (appears to His creatures as) before or after or be- 
hind them. Nor shall they compass aught of His knowledge except 
as He wills. His Throne does extend over the heavens and the earth, 
and He feels no fatigue in guarding and preserving them. 

For a non-Shhite Muslim, this verse confirms Allah’s expansive power; 
his throne symbolizes the beginning and end of all creation and the cos- 
mos. Shhite viewers (especially those in the medieval period), however, 
might associate the throne with the Imams as well: they existed, engraved 
on the throne of God, since before created time. 64 The verse thus links 
the Imams’ authority directly with Allah’s celestial realm. 

Other art historians have suggested that Islamic art and architec- 
ture might reveal a sectarian split in subtler ways, particularly during 
the eleventh- and twelfth-century Sunni revival. During these centuries, 
Sunni (particularly Seljuk Turk) authorities encouraged a more uni- 
form Islam not only through legal and theological argument but also 
through material culture. Calligraphic inscriptions at mosques and ma- 
drasas (theological colleges) emphasized Sunni, particularly Ash" ari, ideals 
with increasingly standardized forms. 65 Calligraphic script, for example, 
shifted from the largely illegible Kufic style to a legible cursive. This 
script subtly challenged the Shhite recognition of both esoteric ( batin , or 
hidden) and exoteric (: zahir , or external) truth; with the new script, only 
one reading and one interpretation prevailed. 66 

The Safavid regime, in contrast, devoted considerable means to 
building pilgrimage sites and shrines to the Imams and their families, 
demonstrating their Shhite identity. Safavid royal women in particular 
endowed the shrine of Fatima al-Ma v suma, the eighth Imam Ali b. Musa 
al-Reza’s sister, in Qum. Shhite Safavids widely recognized Fatima al- 
Ma'suma as the principal intercessor for women. According to tradition, 
she arrived in Qum in 817 on her way to visit her brother-imam, but 
she became ill and requested burial there in the cemetery gardens. The 
shrine built at her tomb became a popular pilgrimage site by the ninth 
and tenth centuries. 67 Several Safavid women identified themselves with 
Fatima al-Ma v suma and her namesake, Fatima (Muhammad’s daughter). 
Histories and hagiographies alike celebrated their reputations as pious 
mothers, daughters, and brides. 

116 Chosen among Women 

With the contributions of Safavid queens and royalty, Fatima al- 
Masuma’s dome was rebuilt and calligraphic inscriptions adorned the 
courtyard and inner tomb chamber. These inscriptions included hadith 
that threatened with hellfire anyone who opposed the ahl al-bayt and 
likened the holy family to Noah’s ark. The inscriptions also awarded the 
Safavid donors epithets similar to their heavenly prototype, Fatima al- 
Batul (the Virgin) and Fatima al-Zahra (the Radiant). 68 

The holy family’s fame extends beyond the mosque, madrasa, and 
shrines into many homes as artists inscribe the names of the ahl al-bayt 
and the Twelve Imams as a type of magical formula on wall hangings or 
even domestic items. 69 Scholars typically sanction such practices as long 
as the articles refer to Allah and Muhammad’s family, although religious 
authorities strictly forbid any illustration that appeals to alternate pow- 
ers such as the jinn, demons, or false gods. Among Shf ite communities, 
amulets and sacred artifacts usually entreat the holy family to intervene 
against the evil eye. The most common symbol of this sacred mediation 
is the human hand. 70 Because it recalls Allah and the Imams as authori- 
ties, it remains licit for most Shf ite communities (fig. 4). 71 

The hand amulet as it is used in various cultures also seems to chal- 
lenge traditional gender expectations. Most good luck talismans through- 
out the Middle East and Africa appeal to masculine, phallic imagery. 72 
The hand amulet, however, alludes to a mother and her family, and it is 
equally popular among both genders, in both public and private space. 
While women often wear the symbol as jewelry, men invoke its powers 
as symbolic stamp or insignia: it is used in official business transactions, 
on modes of transportation (camels or automobiles), and on entrances to 
homes and offices. The holy family’s authority, with Fatima at its nexus, 
supersedes traditional gender designations and promises active interces- 
sion available through a mother, bride, and daughter. 

Despite the disparate theologies surrounding images and pictorial dis- 
plays, both Christian and Shf ite artists managed to reveal Mary’s and 
Fatima’s sublime authority in built form. Artists and architects situated 
both women’s imagery in sacred space: Mary was both prefigured and 
depicted in Santa Maria Maggiore’s mosaic cycle, and later priests as- 
sociated her with the high altar. Fatima’s authority might be symbolized 
in mosque lamps as well as the mihrab itself. In both traditions, these 

Figure 4. Khamsa pendant. Courtesy of author. 

118 Chosen among Women 

holy women symbolically if not literally illuminated their communities. 
Mary’s relics emanated light from the altar at Clermont, and Fatima’s 
nur pointed pious Muslims toward Mecca. The holy mothers’ presence 
allowed pious petitioners to gain access to the throne of God and the 
mercies of Allah. 

Marian imagery flourished in early Christianity: third-century 
catacombs bore a Madonna and Child; church mosaics celebrated her 
participation in Christ’s birth; and Merovingian holy women commis- 
sioned countless edifices and altars dedicated to their holy mother. Such 
artifacts emphasized Mary’s role as intercessor and sublime matriarch; 
Merovingian women sought to share in her authority by affiliating them- 
selves with her sacred spaces. 

Shhite Muslims also promoted Fatima’s intercessory position be- 
tween heaven and earth and her pivotal role in the ahl al-bayt. Mosque 
lamps and Qur’anic verses attested to the family’s divine light (nur) 
and perhaps their primordial existence on God’s throne. Mosques and 
shrines alike included symbols of the family’s authority either through 
architectural innovation or through calligraphy. Amulets of the human 
hand allowed Shf ites continual access to the family for supplication and 
protection against evil. 

Both religious systems enshrined their holy women in built form 
without seriously compromising conservative gender designations. A 
male hierarchy continued to arrogate to itself the authority of Christian 
sacred space; only male priests serve as altar servants in churches. Fatima 
remained inextricably tied to her male counterparts: she served as inter- 
cessor not only to Allah but also to her father, husband, and sons. 


According to early medieval Christian and Shi'ite tradition, God chose 
Mary and Fatima as vessels for his sublime progeny. Mary, an obedient 
maiden, gave birth to the God-Man Jesus; Fatima, sharing in the divine 
nur , held the Imamate within her womb. The attention to two female 
figures did not stop with theological concerns; hagiographers also chose 
Mary and Fatima to think about matters of political and sectarian iden- 
tity. The sacred narratives and hagiographies produced by these authors, 
most of whom were men, offer historians windows into theology, gender 
expectations, and notions of the holy. If we read these texts with a criti- 
cal eye to rhetorical design and cultural context, they reveal a complex 
construction of feminine images intended for a variety of purposes and 

A careful comparison of Mary and Fatima depends on problematic 
sources. Late antique and early medieval authors proliferated images 
of Mary and Fatima at times of social, political, and religious change. 
Christian authors from roughly 200 to 750, for example, employed Mary 
as a symbol of the orthodox or right church as well as to bolster their 
Christology. Shhite authors used the image of Fatima in a similar way; 
however, their texts originate from a different time and space. Shhite 
hadith transmitters stressed Fatima’s role in the Imamate, the Prophet 


120 Chosen among Women 

Muhammad’s lineage that held true religious authority among Muslims. 
Such texts, dating to the eighth and ninth centuries, allowed various 
ShFite groups to express their differences (e.g., on the Imams’ identi- 
ties) as well as the emerging distinction between Sunni and Shhite. Both 
Christian and Shhite texts thus reveal a process of self-identification 
wherein male authors rely on feminine ideals as markers of community. 

Theologians clearly relied on Mary and Fatima to articulate and 
expand their respective orthodoxies and notions of rightness. By defin- 
ing first their pure and immaculate nature, authors transformed Mary’s 
and Fatima’s bodies into sacred containers. Early church fathers such as 
Ambrose and Jerome explained Jesus’ own miraculous composition as 
both human and divine by scrutinizing Mary’s body, miraculously pure 
and intact. In developing their Mariology, theologians developed their 
Christology. Ambrose transformed Mary into a new Hebrew temple, 
sealed to all except the High Priest, or God himself. Fatima also served 
as a sacred vessel, holding the Imam’s nur within her while simultane- 
ously sharing it. Fatima al-Zahra existed as the only female member of 
the holy family and, like her father, husband, and sons, remained immacu- 
late and infallible. Both Shf ite and Christian authors also likened their 
holy women to an ancient container, Noah’s ark; the women’s wombs 
carried humanity’s true salvation. 

Mary and Fatima served equally important functions in political and 
sectarian discourse. With such a rhetorical agenda in mind, hagiogra- 
phers accented Mary’s and Fatima’s maternal roles. These holy women, 
as mothers, effectively defined the limits of community and sectarian di- 
vision. By symbolically adopting believers to their maternal care, Mary 
and Fatima damned unbelievers to hell. Hagiographers advertised their 
holy mothers by describing their homey miracles and domestic skill. Both 
women experienced superhuman parturitions, multiplied food, and inter- 
ceded for their spiritual offspring. 

In the early medieval West, Mother Mary identified Franks as 
orthodox and anointed by God. When the Merovingians converted 
to Christianity, Mary defended her children against Arian and Jewish 
contamination. Merovingian priests, bishops, queens, and holy women 
sometimes defined themselves through Mary: bishops boasted of her rel- 
ics; queens dedicated their families and Gallo-Roman populations to her 
care; and holy women nurtured their communities as pious mothers. 

Conclusion 121 

Shrite authors articulated the Imamate’s divine authority as the 
community’s leaders by advertising Fatima’s motherhood in much the 
same way. Fatima gave birth free from pollutants and simultaneously 
shared in the preexistent nur from which Allah crafted the ahl al-bayt. 
Shf ite authors declared their sectarian identity by proclaiming Fatima’s 
numinous status as the Prophet’s daughter, "Ali’s wife, and the Imams’ 
mother. She provided the uterine connection, the bloodline, that autho- 
rized the Imams’ station as the Shrite community’s infallible leaders. 
The identification with Fatima’s family granted considerable prestige in 
the struggle between Sunni and Shi v ite sovereignty as well as clerical re- 
sponsibility in Shrite communities. The Shi'a demonstrated its blessed 
status by describing Fatima’s abasement of "A’isha and distinction as 
the Prophet’s daughter. For the majority of ShPites (or Twelvers), the 
Imamate’s authority shifted with the twelfth Imam’s occultation in the 
tenth century. When the last Imam remains in hiding, the ShPite com- 
munity’s clerics or scholars rule in his stead. By fortifying the link be- 
tween Fatima and the Imams, these scholars secured their own authority 
within ShPism. 

Mary’s and Fatima’s chosen status reveals much about gender des- 
ignations in medieval Christianity and Islam. Both traditions labeled 
women as spiritually depraved descendants of Eve especially susceptible 
to temptation and sin. To transform Mary and Fatima into worthy ves- 
sels, God first redeemed them from the physical burdens borne by the 
rest of their sex. Mary remained physically intact and Fatima remained 
ritually pure while performing miraculous deeds. These divergent reli- 
gions provide radically different idealized female bodies: Mary as virgin 
remains impenetrable; the heavenly Fatima and houris retain their vir- 
ginity while engaging men with unusual sexual stamina. 

It is clear that ordinary women could never achieve the same eman- 
cipation as their holy models and thus appear as the ideal female form, 
yet they still operated in the same patriarchal systems that both feared 
and sought to contain female sexuality and pollution. By appropriat- 
ing the image of Mary and Fatima to their own circumstance, it seems 
many women succeeded in gaining some amount of spiritual authority. 
As mothers and brides, Merovingian queens and abbesses converted 
their families, wielded royal might, and (effectively) ruled monasteries. 
While not the focus of this study, it seems that Shihte royal women such 

122 Chosen among Women 

as those in the Safavid dynasty, self-styled in Fatima’s image, endowed 
shrines from their own estates. 

Both Mary and Fatima, in a sense, draw their spiritual authority 
from the family and domestic sphere. Early church fathers explained 
that Mary never left home and remained under the protection of male 
priests and her husband, Joseph, while at the same time she intercedes 
for humanity and reigns in heaven as Christ’s mother and bride. Fatima, 
the mystical nexus of the holy family, rewards her adoptive kin who weep 
for her slain son, Husayn, and escorts women into paradise on judg- 
ment day. Because these women are both powerful in their own right 
yet intimately connected to domestic (private) space, they can be em- 
ployed by authors for a variety of purposes. Mary and Fatima can signify 
both female independence and agency and submission and chastity. The 
tendency to imbue Mary and Fatima with such symbolic meaning for a 
specific political purpose is not unique to the medieval period. 

Contemporary Catholic Christians have attributed a plethora of 
meanings and interpretations to the Blessed Virgin Mary. 1 When Mary 
appeared to three children in Fatima, Portugal, in 1917, the church ex- 
plained that she promised Communism’s demise if believers would live 
pious lives and pray to her. The Polish Pope John Paul II later credited 
Mary with Communism’s defeat in the late 1980s and encouraged the 
church to continue its Marian piety. 2 Mary, champion of democracy, 
vanquished Russia’s secular regime. Yet Mary provides more than politi- 
cal identity; many inner-city gangs in the United States use Mary as a 
symbol of their (usually ethic) communities. Gang members, usually La- 
tino, often have Mary of Guadalupe, a sixteenth-century visionary icon, 
tattooed on their backs to demonstrate their gang allegiance. 3 

The more conservative elements within Catholicism certainly have a 
vested interest in limiting Mary to traditional ideals. These forces advance 
Mary as the feminine model in the twenty-first century to counteract what 
they deem rampant sexual promiscuity. Mary, as Virgin, provides young 
women with a path of life — virginity through abstinence, which leads to 
marriage and procreation. More important, Mary provides a model of 
submission, denying her (and women) a priestly role. More liberal, femi- 
nist elements within the church demand that Mary be reimagined. For 
these groups, historical interrogation and biblical scholarship leads to a 
more complex view of Mary; in this reconstruction, Mary resembles an 

Conclusion 123 

independent woman, free to choose her future. 4 Many feminist Catholics 
want to emphasize the medieval Marian epithets Co-Redeemer and Me- 
diatrix to revitalize women’s roles in the church. 5 

Similarly, modern Muslim authors appeal to Fatima in support of 
their political and religious causes. ShFite adoration of Fatima continues 
today, most prominently in taziya ceremonies that re-create Husayn’s 
death and suffering. These passion narratives appear in the Buyid period 
(tenth century) in recitation form and became actual dramatizations by 
the Safavid era. One nineteenth-century observation of an Iranian taziya 
describes Fatima in much the same language as her medieval hagiogra- 
phers: the author defines her as one of the “best of the women of the 
world”; she is called al-batul , the virgin, and al-zahra , the radiant; and he 
commends her perpetual virginity as the “Mary of this people.” 6 

More recent ethnographies describe Fatima’s miraculous appear- 
ance during celebrations related to the Karbala massacre. Fatima joins 
the faithful group of women while they recount her many miracles and 
acts of humility, strength, and piety. 7 According to some practitioners, 
Fatima miraculously attends the various ceremonies that re-create Hu- 
sayn’s martyrdom and notes who participates in her son’s suffering. She 
observes the matam rituals wherein believers beat their breasts or in- 
flict bleeding wounds on their bodies to share in Husayn’s pain. By her 
presence, Fatima creates a sacred space and time in which the believers’ 
suffering joins with the ahl al-bayfs at Karbala. She then returns to para- 
dise, pleased with her community’s loyalty. 8 

Iranian leaders put Fatima to more rhetorical use during the Ira- 
nian Revolution in the 1970s. Idealogues such as AJi Shariati presented 
Fatima as a critique of Western women who are merely pawns of capital- 
ism and materialism. Shariati encouraged young Iranian women to first 
imitate Fatima as a protector of Islamic law and justice but then to return 
to home and family after the revolutionary struggle. 9 Most revolution- 
aries described Zaynab, Fatima’s daughter, as the paradigm for political 
action. Zaynab was present at Husayn’s martyrdom at Karbala and de- 
nounced the caliph’s humiliation of her brother’s body. Women should 
imitate Zaynab in their political resurgence, but, according to Shariati, 
they should follow Fatima as an example of political responsibility fol- 
lowed by domestic quietude. Zaynab might be used for revolutions and 
reform, but Fatima provides the idealized woman for more typical times. 

124 Chosen among Women 

Whether in the seventh century or the twenty-first, Mary’s and 
Fatima’s charisma affords scholars and religious alike an important sym- 
bol of community and religiosity that may be manipulated in various 
ways. The holy women’s attendance within the home subtly stresses 
the male householders’ presence and dominance. In the end, however, 
Mary and Fatima — chosen by God as holy vessels and chosen by men as 
didactic models — manage to provide moral exemplars for women, pro- 
mote standards of sanctity and faith, and chastise religious and political 
heresy. Within such legacies the domestic indeed complements public 
(masculine) authority and gains a place for feminine sanctity not easily 



The Muslim Caliphs 

The Four Rashidun 
or , The Four Rightly Guided Caliphs 

Abu Bakr, 632-34 
'Umar ibn 'Abd al-Khattab, 634-44 
'Uthman ibn 'Affan, 644-56 
'Ali ibn Abi Talib, 656-61 

The Umayyad Dynasty 

Mu'awiya ibn Abi Sufyan I, 661-80 
Yazid I, 680-83 
Mu'awiya II, 6 8 3 - 84 
Marwan I, 684-85 
'Abd al-Malik, 685-705 
'Al-Walid I, 705-15 


126 Appendix 

Sulayman, 715-17 

"Umar ibn v Abd al-Aziz, 717-20 

Yazid II, 720-24 

Hisham, 724-43 

Al-Walid II, 743-44 

Yazid III, 744 

Ibrahim, 744 

Marwan II, 744-50 

Establishment of Abbasid Dynasty, 750 

Appendix 127 

The Shfi Imams 

"Abd al-Muttalib 

"Abdullah Abu Talib 



Fatima = 1. "Ali (d. 661) 

i/2. al-Hasan (d. 669) ii/3. al-Husayn (d. 680) 

iii/4. "Ali Zayn al-'Abidin (d. 714) 
Zayd (d. 740) iv/5. Muhammad al-Baqir (d. 731) 

v/6. Ja'far al-Sadiq (d. 765) 
vi. IsmaTl (d. 760) 7. Musa al-Kazim (d. 799) 

I I 

vii. Muhammad al-Mahdi 8. "Ali al-Rida (d. 818) 

9. Muhammad al-Jawad (d. 835) 

Fatimid caliphs 

Nizari imams 

10. "Ali al-Hadi (d. 868) 

11. Hasan al-"Askari (d. 874) 

12. Muhammad al-Muntazar 

Arabic numerals indicate the line of succession recognized by the Twelver Shi'ites. 
Roman numerals indicate the line recognized by the IsmaTlis. 

Adapted from Albert Hourani, A History of the Arab Peoples (Belknap Press, 2003). 

128 Appendix 

"Abd Shams 


Umayyad caliphs 

The Family of the Prophet 
"Abd Manaf 


"Abd al-Muttalib 

al- "Abbas "Abdullah 



"Abbasid caliphs Fatima = 

Abu Talib 


Shi"i Imams 

Glossary of Arabic Terms 

ahl al-bayt: people of the house. In ShFite tradition, refers to the Prophet Mu- 
hammad and his family: Fatima, "Ali, Hasan, and Husayn. 

ahl al-kisa': people of the cloak. Refers to a ShFite tradition wherein the Prophet 
Muhammad designates his family — Fatima, v Ali, Hasan, and Husayn — as his 
chosen successors by wrapping them in his cloak. 

K aql: reason. Shihtes contend that reason is the primary source of most basic 
theological principles. 

hatin: internal or esoteric meaning; opposite of zahir. 

al-batul: virgin. An epithet often applied to Mary and Fatima. 

bayt al-ahzan: house of suffering. Refers particularly to the suffering of the ahl 

ghayba: occultation, or concealment. Used to describe the current state of the 
twelfth Imam. 

ghulat: extremists. Early groups of ShFites that held “extreme” views, for ex- 
ample, that one or more of the Imams were, in fact, divine. 

ghusl: fall ablution. Purity ritual that involves a fall bath. 

haram: forbidden. 

huriyat: pi. of hur , or virgin of paradise. 


130 Glossary of Arabic T erms 

ijtihad: Independent legal reason used in Islamic law, practiced by a mujtahid. 

K ilm: knowledge or science. Those who possess religious knowledge are called 

K isma: infallible. In Shkite tradition the ahl al-bayt and the Imams are considered 
ma sumin , or the infallible ones. 

isnad: the chain of transmitters in hadith. 

Ithna-ashariyya: the Twelvers, the largest sect of Shkism. The name refers to 
the recognition of twelve Imams. 

madrasa: school. 

matn: the text or “story” of hadith. 

mihrab: the niche in a mosque’s qibla wall, indicating the direction of Mecca for 

minbar: pulpit. The raised pulpit in a mosque from which the imam delivers the 
Friday sermon. 

mi K raj: ascension. Refers specifically to Muhammad’s night journey to paradise 
where he met Allah. 

mubahala: ritual cursing. According to Shkite tradition, the Qur’anic mubahala 
verse (3.61) was revealed at the occasion when Muhammad, "Ali, Hasan, and 
Husayn became known as the ahl al-kisa\ 

muia: temporary marriage. 

nass: the formal designation of an Imam’s successor. 

nur: light. According to Shkite tradition, the primordial Muhammad and Imams 
existed as “light” on Allah’s throne. 

Rashidun: The rightly-guided caliphs that succeeded the Prophet. 

sahaba: companions. 

Glossary of Arabic T erms 131 

salat: ritual prayer. 
shi K at yili : party of v Ali. 

shirk : association. Considered one of the most grievous sins when one associates 
others with Allah. 

sunna: custom or way of acting. The customs of the Prophet are especially val- 
ued and transmitted in hadith. 

takhir: The uttering of “Allahu Akbar.” 

tafsir: Qur’anic exegesis. 

tawhid: Maintaining the unity of Allah. 

ta'ziya: consolation. In Shfite tradition the ta'ziya is the passion drama com- 
memorating Imam Husayn’s death at Karbala. 

\lama': the class of learned religious scholars. 

umma : community. 

wall: friend or protector. Can also refer to Muslim saints (pi. awliya). 

Today a: legal guardianship. 

wudu: lesser ablutions performed before prayer and reading the Qur’an. 
zahir: external or obvious meaning; opposite of hat in. 
ziyara: visitation. Pilgrimage to a holy place or shrine. 



Acta Sanctorum. Brussels: Impression Anastaltique Culture et 
Civilisation, 1970. 

al- Bukhari 

Sahih. Edited by L. Krehl and W. Juynboll. Leiden, 1862— 


Corpus Christianorum. Series Latina. Turnholt: Brepolis Edi- 
tores Pontificii, 1956. 


Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Eatinorum. New York and 
London: Johnson Reprint, 1963. 

El 1 - EP 

Encyclopedia of Islam, 1st and 2d eds. Leiden: E. J. Brill. 


Gregory of Tours, Liber in gloria confessorum. Edited by 
B. Krusch. MGH SRM 1.2. 


Gregory of Tours. Liber in gloria many rum. Edited by 
B. Krusch. MGH SRM 1.2. 


International Journal of Middle East Studies. London: Cam- 
bridge University Press. 


Gregory of Tours, Decern Libri Historiarum. Edited by 
B. Krusch and W. Levison. MGH SRM 1.1. 


Bihar al-anwdr. Tehran- Qum, 1376-92/1956-72. 


134 Abbreviations 










Monumenta Germaniae Historica. Societas Aperiendis Fonti- 
bus Reram Germanicarum. 

Auctores Antiquissimi. 



Scriptores Rerum Merovingicarum. 

J. P. Migne, ed., Patrologia Graeca. Paris, 1886. 

J. P. Migne, ed., Patrologia Latina. Paris, 1886. 

Sources Chretiennes. Paris: Editions du Cerf, 1943- . 

Gregory of Tours, Liber de vitae partum. Edited by B. Krusch. 
MGH SRM 1.2. 



1. al-Majlisi, v. 43.3, p. 24. 

2. Important sources on the Franks are Patrick Geary, Before France and 
Germany : The Creation and Transformation of the Merovingian World (Oxford: Ox- 
ford University Press, 1988); Janet L. Nelson, The Frankish World , 150-900 (Rio 
Grande: Hambledon Press, 1996); and, of course, J. M. Wallace-HadrilPs lead- 
ing works, including Barbarian West , a.d. 400-1000 (New York: Harper & Row, 
1962), and The Long-Haired Kings (New York: Barnes & Noble, 1962). 

3. Ralph W. Mathisen provides an important look at Arian Germanic 
churches and hierarchy in “Barbarian Bishops and the Churches Hn harbaricis 
gentibus ’ during Late Antiquity,” Speculum 72.3 (1997): 664-97. 

4. GM 8, 10. 

5. Throughout the eighth and ninth centuries, these identities were still 
evolving. Sectarian divisions centered particularly on supporters of v Ali and his 
descendants versus the supporters of the caliphs. For clarity, I shall distinguish 
the groups as Shkite and Sunni Muslims which, of course, conveys a doctrinal 
distinction that took centuries to fully solidify. 

6. For v Arwa, see Farhad Daftary’s “Sayyida Hurra: The Isma ill Sulayhid 
Queen of Yemen,” in Women in the Medieval Islamic World , ed. Gavin R. G. 
Hambly (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998), 117-30; and Fatima Mernissi’s 
The Forgotten Queens of Islam, trans. M. J. Lakeland (Cambridge: Polity Press, 
1993); also see Kishwar Rizvi’s “Gendered Patronage: Women and Benevolence 
during the Early Safavid Empire,” in Women, Patronage, and Self -Representation 
in Islamic Societies, ed. D. Fairchild Ruggles (New York: State University of New 
York Press, 2000), 123-53. 

7. Rivzi, “Gendered Patronage,” 126. 

8. Averil Cameron provides an important discussion of paradoxical imagery 
in Christian discourse in Christianity and the Rhetoric of Empire: The Development 


136 Notes to Pages 5-6 

of a Christian Discourse (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991). She ex- 
amines the Virgin Mary in chap. 5, 155-88. 

9. Theologians formally recognized Mary as God’s “container” only after 
extended debates. Mary received the appellation Theotokos, or God-bearer, at 
the highly controversial Council of Ephesus in 43 1 CE. 

10. For secondary sources on early female virgins (including their imitation 
of Mary), see Virginia Burrus, “Word and Flesh: The Bodies and Sexuality of 
Ascetic Women in Christian Antiquity,” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 10 
(1994): 27-51; Averil Cameron, “Virginity as Metaphor: Women and the Rheto- 
ric of Early Christianity,” in History as Text: The Writing of Ancient History , ed. 
Averil Cameron (London: Duckworth, 1988), 181-205; Gillian Clark, Women in 
Late Antiquity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993); Mary Foskett, A Virgin 
Conceived: Mary and Classical Representations of Virginity (Bloomington: Indiana 
University Press, 2002). 

11. See the arguments of Lynda L. Coon, Sacred Fictions: Holy Women and 
Hagiography in Late Antiquity (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 

1 2 . According to some classical authors, Muhammad paralleled shay diin and 
wives, including Eve’s temptation of Adam. M. J. Kister quotes al-Munawi, al- 
Suyutl, and al-Daylaml in “Legends in t of sir and hadith Literature: The Creation 
of Adam and Related Stories,” in Approaches to the History of the Interpretation of 
the Qur'an, ed. Andrew Rippin (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 93. 

13. See Annemarie Schimmel’s introduction to feminine imagery in Sufi 
literature, My Soul Is a Woman: The Feminine in Islam , trans. Susan H. Ray (New 
York: Continuum, 1997), 20. 

14. There are a number of secondary sources devoted to Shkite cosmology 
and the Imams in particular. Two basic works are Mahmoud Ayoub, Redemptive 
Suffering in Islam: A Study of the Devotional Aspects of Ashurd in Twelver Shiism 
(The Hague: Mouton, 1978); and Mohammad Ali Amir-Moezzi, The Divine 
Guide in Early Shiism: The Sources of Esotericism in Islam , trans. David Streight 
(New York: State University of New York Press, 1994). 

15. See Giselle de Nie’s “Consciousness Fecund through God: From Male 
Fighter to Spiritual Bride-Mother in Late Antique Female Sanctity,” in Sanctity 
and Motherhood: Essays on Holy Mothers in the Middle Ages, ed. Anneke B. Mulder- 
Bakker (New York: Garland, 1995). 

16. Vernon K. Robbins explains the rhetorical nature of certain images in 
historical, social, cultural, and political works. He defines these as “patterns of 
intertexture,” or the ways in which texts stand in relation to other texts and in- 
terpretations. See The Tapestry of Early Christian Discourse: Rhetoric, Society, and 
Ideology (New York: Routledge, 1996). 

17. al-MajlisT, v. 43.2, p. 18. 

Notes to Pages 6-8 137 

18. For important methodological discussions of material culture, gender, 
and theology, see Robin Margaret Jensen, Understanding Early Christian Art 
(New York: Routledge, 2000); Roberta Gilchrist, Gender and Material Culture: 
The Archaeology of Female Monastic Houses (London: Routledge, 1994); Moira 
Donald and Linda Hurcombe, eds., Gender and Material Culture in Historical 
Perspective (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999). 

19. See recent discussions of poststructuralist theory and the implications 
for early Christian studies in Coon’s Sacred Fictions , introd.; Mary Arm Tolbert, 
“Social, Sociological, and Anthropological Methods,” in Searching the Scriptures: 
A Feminist Introduction, ed. Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza (New York: Crossroad, 
1993); Gillian Cloke, This Female Man of God: Women and Spiritual Power in 
the Patristic Ages, 350-450 (London: Routledge, 1995); Thomas Laqueur, Mak- 
ing Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard 
University Press, 1990); and, of course, Judith Butler’s groundbreaking work 
on gender performance, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity 
(New York: Routledge, 1990). 

20. For a review of feminist hermeneutics in the 1970s, see Elisabeth 
Schussler Fiorenza, In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of 
Christian Origins (New York: Crossroad, 1983), chap. 1, “Toward a Feminist 
Critical Hermeneutics.” 

21. See, for example, Rosemary Radford Ruether and Eleanor McLaugh- 
lin, eds., Women of Spirit: Female Leadership in the Jewish and Christian Traditions 
(New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979). Schussler Fiorenza articulates a “herme- 
neutics of suspicion” that questions male authors’ misogynistic imagery and a 
“hermeneutics of remembrance” to reconstruct the “reality” of the early church; 
see In Memory of Her. 

22. Many authors have reviewed the historical circumstances of women in 
Islam to argue for contemporary political change and to revive a pristine Qur’anic 
gender ideal free from patriarchal interference. See Leila Ahmed, Women and 
Gender in Islam: Historical Roots of a Modem Debate (New Haven: Yale University 
Press, 1992); Fatima Mernissi, Beyond the Veil: Male-Female Dynamics in Modern 
Muslim Society (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987); Lila Abu-Lughod, 
Remaking Women: Feminism and Modernity in the Middle Fast (Princeton: Prince- 
ton University Press, 1998); Miriam Cooke, Women Claim Islam: Creating Islamic 
Feminism through Literature (New York: Routledge, 2001); and Asma Barlas, 
“Believing Women " in Islam: Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Qur'an 
(Austin: University of Texas Press, 2002). 

23. Most authors either contest Fatima’s historical authenticity (see the 
articles in ET and El 2 ) or consider her an exemplary model in contemporary 
political debates. See, for example, "Ali Shari" ati, Sharp ati on Sharp ati and the 
Muslim Woman (Chicago: Kazi Publications, 1996); Fatima Mernissi, Women's 

138 Notes to Pages 8-13 

Rebellion and Islamic Memory (Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Zed Books, 1996). As a 
notable exception, Denise Spellberg considers in passing Fatima’s role in histori- 
cal rhetoric in her Politics , Gender and the Islamic Past: The Legacy of A ’ isha bint 
Abu Bakr (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994). 

24. See the important works by Mary Clanton, The Cult of the Virgin Mary 
in Anglo-Saxon England (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990) and 
Apocryphal Gospels of Mary in Anglo-Saxon England (New York: Cambridge Uni- 
versity Press, 1998). 

25. Bede, Historia Ecclesiastica , 1.29. See Alan Thacker’s article regarding 
Rome’s influence on English piety, “In Search of Saints: The English Church 
and the Cult of Roman Apostles and Martyrs in the Seventh and Eighth Centu- 
ries,” in Early Medieval Rome and the Christian West: Essays in Honour of Donald A. 
Bullough , ed. Julia Smith (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2000), 247-77. 

26. See Peter O’Dwyer, Mary: A History of Devotion in Ireland (Dublin: Four 
Courts Press, 1988). O’Dwyer examines the “Old Irish Life of S. Brigid” as well 
as “Adamnan’s Law Code” in discussing Marian imagery in the early seventh 

Chapter One. Holy Women in Context 

1 . Denise Spellberg uses this approach in her Politics , Gender , and the Is- 
lamic Past. She carefully distinguishes the difference between Misha’s “life” and 
“legacy” within the Sunni community. 

2. Another controversial element (besides the Christological debate) was 
Mary’s own lack of sin. Popular piety throughout late antiquity and the early 
Middle Ages equated the Virgin Mary with the Song of Song’s woman “without 
spot” (4.7). It follows that should Mary provide the flesh for the God-Man, it 
must indeed be “sinless.” Yet theologians debated the point (i.e., how could 
redemption occur before the Crucifixion?), and the Immaculate Conception 
only became dogma in 1854. Another question remains, however: if Mary was 
indeed “without stain,” did she inherit the physical marks of Eve’s sin, i.e., 
menstruation? The Protevangelium of James had promoted the notion that Mary 
could “pollute” the temple; and, according to medieval conceptions of anatomy 
and physiology, menstrual blood transformed into milk, thus allowing Mary 
to lactate (a popular image in the late Middle Ages). Theology retained the 
incongruity that Mary remained free from sin, yet bore some of the burdens of 
the flesh (just as Christ did). See Charles T. Wood’s “The Doctors’ Dilemma: 
Sin, Salvation, and the Menstrual Cycle in Medieval Thought,” Speculum 56.4 
(1981): 710-27. 

3. For Cyril’s refutations, see Acta Conciliorum Oecumenicorum , PG, v. 77. 

Notes to Pages 13-14 139 

4. See Gillian Clark’s discussion in Early Church as Patrons: Christianity and 
Roman Society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), esp. chap. 6. 

5. There is a significant debate about ethnic designations in the early 
Middle Ages. As Lawrence Nees points out, many historians argue that ethnic 
distinctions between the “barbarians” and the Gallo-Romans only supports the 
Roman propaganda that distinguished their “pure” culture from the barbaric 
ones. See his introduction in Speculum 72.4 (1997): 959-69. Yet other historians 
contend that ethnic distinctions are useful; see James Russell, The Germanization 
of Early Medieval Christianity: A Sociohistorical Approach to Religious Transforma- 
tion (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994); and Walter Pohl and Helmut 
Reimetz, eds, Strategies of Distinction: The Construction of Ethnic Communities , 
300-800 (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1998). Gerd Althoff considers ethnic distinctions 
important as well; he suggests that Roman senatorial families largely inherited 
church authority (in the cities) while Frankish aristocratic families assumed more 
local control in rural areas; see Family , Friends and Followers: Political and Social 
Bonds in Early Medieval Europe , trans. Christopher Carroll (Cambridge: Cam- 
bridge University Press, 2004). 

6. See E. Weig, “Volkstum und Volksbewusstsein in Frankenreich des 7. 
Jahrhunderts,” Caratteri del Secolo VII in Occidente (Spoleto: Settimane di Studio 
del Centro italiano di studi sull) Alto Medioevo 5 (1958): 587-648; and Raymond 
Van Dam, Leadership and Community in Late Antique Gaul (Berkeley: University of 
California Press, 1985), 180-81. 

7. Political overtones remained because the Visigoths and some other 
tribes were still Arian, which set them apart theologically from the Franks. Yet it 
is important to note that these differences were expressed as theological instead 
of only political. 

8. Historians have argued that the level of “literacy” in the Merovingian pe- 
riod has been underestimated. See, for example, Yitzhak Hen, Culture and Reli- 
gion in Merovingian Gaul , a.d. 481-751 (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1995), 21M-2; M. van 
Uytfanghe, “L’Hagiographie et son publique a l’epoque merovingienne,” Studia 
Patristica 16 (1985): 54-62; and Katrien Henne, “Merovingian and Carolingian 
Hagiography: Continuity and Change in Public and Aims?” Analecta Bollandiana 
107 (1989): 415-28. 

9. Many works have examined the status and proliferation of saint cults from 
late antiquity to Merovingian and Carolingian Gaul. See, for example, the excel- 
lent introduction to Thomas F. X. Noble and Thomas Head, eds., Soldiers of 
Christ: Saints and Saints' Lives from Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages (Uni- 
versity Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995); Alan Thacker and Rich- 
ard Sharpe, eds., Local Saints and Local Churches in the Early Medieval West (Oxford: 
Oxford University Press, 2002); and Raymond Van Dam, Saints and Their Miracles 
in Late Antique Gaul (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993). 

140 Notes to Pages 14-16 

1 0. See Van Dam’s discussion, drawing on the works of the cultural anthro- 
pologist Clifford Geertz, in Leadership and Community , 188. 

11. See Janet T. Nelson’s discussion of Carolingian rhetoric, which recasts 
the Franks as the “new Israel,” in “Kingship and Empire in the Carolingian 
World,” in Carolingian Culture: Emulation and Innovation , ed. Rosamond Mc- 
Kitterick (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 52-87. See also R. G. 
Heath’s “Western Schism of the Franks and the Filioque,” Journal of Ecclesiastical 
History 23 (April 1972): 97-113. 

12. Van Dam discusses Gregory of Tours’s assimilation of Frankish his- 
tory to an Old Testament model in Leadership and Community , 196-97. 

13. See the insightful discussion of Merovingian hagiography in J. M. 
Wallace-Hadrill’s The Frankish Church (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1960), 37-54. 
Carolingian historians later completed this identification and pronounced the 
Franks as the new Chosen People claiming their Promised Land. 

14. See Louise P. M. Batstone’s “Doctrinal and Theological Themes in the 
Prayers of the Bobbio Missal, ” in The Bohhio Missal: Liturgy and Religious Culture 
in Merovingian Gaul , ed. Yitzhak Hen and Rob Meens (Cambridge: Cambridge 
University Press, 2004), 168-86. 

15. Ibid., 179; quoting Bohhio 70, 128. 

16. See Yitzhak Hen’s “The Liturgy of the Bobbio Missal,” in The Bohhio 
Missal , 140-53. The Feast of the Assumption was celebrated on 18 January in 
Gaul (see Hen’s note, p. 144). 

17. See the discussion of ritual and meaning in Clifford Geertz’s “Ethos, 
World View and the Analysis of Sacred Symbols,” in The Interpretation of Cul- 
tures (New York: Basic Books, 1973), 126-41. 

18. Gregory of Tours provides one important example of Saint Gallus, a 
bishop from an aristocratic family (and also Gregory’s paternal uncle), who left 
the “terrestrial possessions which [he] despised” and turned to “celestial mat- 
ters”; see VP 5.1. Althoff also notes that ecclesiastical appointments were largely 
awarded to family members, thus establishing kin groups with specific loyalties 
throughout Gaul; see Family , Friends and Followers, 23-25. 

19. Bishops did in fact found their own saint cults. Gregory’s great- 
grandfather, Gregorius, discovered a martyr-saint at Dijon after a miraculous 
dream; see GM 50. Van Dam also discusses this miracle in Leadership and Com- 
munity, 208-9. 

20. Gregory of Tours’s appointment, for example, was influenced by Queen 
Brunhild’s approval and favor. 

21. Balthild’s hagiographer discusses her kindness to monasteries and 
bishops alike in Vita Sanctae Balthildis 9-10. Janet T. Nelson also notes Brunhild’s 
and Balthild’s support of saint cults, “Queens as Jezebels,” 40, 69-70. She points 

Notes to Pages 16-20 141 

out that Balthild was possibly responsible for gaining Saint Martin’s cloak for the 
royal collection and Saint Denis’s arm for the palace oratory. See also LHF , cap. 
44, p. 316. 

22. Gregory describes Mary’s assumption into heaven in GM 4. It is impor- 
tant to note, too, that this description immediately follows Gregory’s explication 
of Christ’s own resurrection and ascension (GM 3). This identification of Mary’s 
experience with Christ’s sets her apart from the other saints, in a sense, as she 
was escorted to paradise to sit beside her Son. 

23. GM 8. 

24. GM 18. 

25. GM 10; MGH SRM 1.2.45: Tunc extractam a pectore crucem elevo 
contra ignem; mox in aspectu sanctarum reliquiarum ita cunctus ignis obstipuit, 
acsi non fuisset accensus. 

26. Gregory, for example, describes the construction of Mary’s church in 
Jerusalem by Constantine (as discussed above) and then immediately explains 
that Clermont itself claims many Marian relics. He also states that he has seen 
for himself their miraculous power; see GM 8. 

27. Gregory advertised the tombs and relics of many saints along with 
Mary’s, especially those of Saints Martin and Julian. Gregory even boasts that 
Gaul is the spiritual equal of Rome because of Saint Martin’s tomb; see Sermo in 
laudem S. Martini 4, also discussed in Van Dam, Leadership and Community , 244. 

28. The Kharijites (literally, “those who go out”) were radically opposed 
to any arbitration because they fiercely accepted the notion of divine justice. 
For the Kharijites, the forces of Mu'awiya, as the kinsmen of "Uthman, had 
committed grave sins and deserved divine punishment. Ali should not have 
compromised in any way. The Kharijites later crafted a theory that the commu- 
nity’s leadership should be based on righteousness instead of kin relationship 
or inheritance. 

29. According to Shidte tradition, Mu'awiya bribed Hasan to abdicate any 
claims to the caliphate by promising peace and protection for the shEat Ali . 
Later Mu'awiya bribed one of Hasan’s wives to poison him so as to ensure his 
own son’s succession. See Arzina R. Lalani’s discussion, Early ShVi Thought: The 
Teachings of Imam Muhammad al-Bdqir (London: I. B. Tauris, 2000), 28-29. 

30. See Moshe Sharon, Black Banners from the East : The Establishment of the 
Ahhasid State — Incubation of a Revolt (Leiden: Magnes Press, 1983). 

3 1 . See Wilfred Madelung, “The Hashimiyyat of al-Kumayt and Hashimi 
Shifism,” Studia Islamica 70 (1989): 5-26; Patricia Crone, “On the Meaning of 
the Abbasid Call to al-Ridaf in Islamic World from Classical to Modern Times , ed. 
C. E. Bosworth, Charles Issaw, Roger Savory, and A. L. Udovitch (Princeton: 
Darwin Press, 1989), 95-111. 

142 Notes to Pages 20-23 

32. See Louis Massignon’s discussion of the Mubahala event in “La 
Mubahala de Medine et Phyperdulie de Fatima,” in Opera Minora , v. 1 (Beirut: 
Dar al-Ma‘arif, 1963). Also see “Mubahala,” in El 2 , 264. 

33. The rationale and practice of mutual cursing is set out in Sura 3.61, or 
the “Mubahala verse”: “If any one disputes in this matter with you, now after 
knowledge has come to you, say: ‘Come! Let us gather together, our sons and 
your sons, our women and your women, ourselves and yourselves; then let us 
earnestly pray. And invoke the curse of Allah on those who lie!” 

34. See Denise Louise Soufi’s review of these traditions included in Ibn 
Hanbal’s Fadall, 2.632, and al-Tabari’s JdmV al-baydn, 22.7 , in “The Image of 
Fatima in Classical Muslim Thought” (Ph.D. diss., Princeton University, 1997). 

35. The proclamation of Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyya as Mahdi has tre- 
mendous impact on the formation of Imami theology. Under Mukhtar the con- 
cepts of divine guide (or Mahdi) and occultation and return are first articulated. 
These theories are later, of course, applied to the twelfth Imam, Muhammad 
al-Mahdl See Moojan Momen’s discussion in An Introduction to Shil Islam : The 
History and Doctrines of Twelver Shiism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 

36. Al-Tabari, TaTikh al-Rasul wa-l-muluk, III, 213; as quoted in Sharon, 
Black Banners, 91. 

37. Anti-ShPite sentiment is also apparent in the controversy over the 
' dshira verse, Qur’an 26.214: “And admonish your nearest kinsmen . . .” Tra- 
ditions from the musannaf collections related this revelation to the last days 
and explained that Muhammad was intimating his inability to intercede for his 
family; the ahl al-hayt, in effect, held no special status and was responsible for 
their own deeds. See Uri Rubin’s discussion in The Eye of the Beholder: The Life 
of Muhammad as Viewed by the Early Muslims, a Textual Analysis, Studies in Late 
Antiquity and Islam 5 (Princeton: Darwin Press, 1995). 

38. Baladhuri, Ansdb al-ashrdf III (ed. Durl) (Beirut, 1398/1978); as quoted 
in Moshe Sharon, u Ahl al-Bayt\ People of the Hous z,” Jerusalem Studies in Arabic 
and Islam 8 (1986): 177. 

39. As Sharon points out, many of the earliest Sunni scholars acknowledged 
the ahl al-bayt as the Prophet’s immediate family and recognized them as special 
and beloved members of Muhammad’s household. Yet as ShPite piety evolved 
and became more defined, later scholars rejected the exclusivity of such a defini- 
tion. See Sharon, u Ahl al-Bayt, ” 172 ff. 

40. The Abbasid line met these arguments with their own accusations. For 
example, the Abbasids refused to recognize AbuTalib’s supremacy because he 
never accepted Islam. See, for example, Sharon’s argument in Black Banners, 97. 

41. See Sharon’s argument in u Ahl al-Bayt, ”178. 

42. See esp. Amir-Moezzi’s The Divine Guide in Early Shiism. 

Notes to Pages 23-27 


43. Amir-Moezzi includes the tenth-century works of Ibn Babawayh, 
Shaykh Ibn Abi Zaynab al-Nu'manl, al-Kulaynl, and al-Shaykh al-Saffar al- 
Qumml among his early sources. 

44. See an overview of these dynasties in Momen, An Introduction to ShTi 
Islam. For separate works see, among other important works, Joel Kraemer, 
Humanism in the Renaissance of Islam: The Cultural Revival during the Buy id Age 
(Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1986); Paul Walker, Exploring and Islamic Empire: Eatimid 
History and Its Sources (New York: I. B. Tauris, 2002); Farhad Daftary, Medieval 
Ismadli History and Thought (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996); and 
Renato Traini, Sources hiographiques des Zaidites (Paris: Centre National de la 
Recherche Scientifique, 1977). 

Chapter Two. Holy Women in Holy Texts 

1. The comparativist Jonathon Z. Smith emphasizes the importance of 
looking for the “new” among categories of comparison instead of merely listing 
sameness and difference. See, for example, his argument in Drudgery Divine: On 
the Comparison of Early Christianities and the Religions of Late Antiquity (Chicago: 
University of Chicago Press, 1990), esp. 46-53. 

2. Robert D. Baird discusses different types of categories available to 
scholars using a functional definition of religion; see his Category Formation and 
the History of Religions (The Hague: Mouton, 1971). 

3. For some of the essential studies of hagiography and the various ways it 
should be approached, see Hippolyte Delehaye, The Legends of the Saints , trans. 
Donald Attwater (New York: Fordham University Press, 1962); Rene Aigrain, 
LHagiographie: Ses sources , ses methodes , son histoire (Paris: Bloud et Gay, 1953); 
Baudoin de Gaifher, Recueil d'hagiographie , Subsidia Hagiographica 61 (Brussels: 
Societe des Bollandistes, 1977), 2 ind Recherches d’h agio graph ie Latine, Subsidia Ha- 
giographica 52 (Brussels: Societe des Bollandistes, 1971); Pierre Delehaye, Les 
legendes hagiographiques (Brussels: Societe des Bollandistes, 1955); and C. G. Loo- 
mis, White Magic: An Introduction to the Folklore of Christian Legends (Cambridge, 
Mass.: Mediaeval Academy of America, 1948). More recent works include Ru- 
dolph Bell, Holy Anorexia (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985); Stephen 
Wilson, ed., Saints and Their Cults: Studies in Religious Sociology , Folklore and History 
(New York: Columbia University Press, 1983); Thomas Heffernan, Sacred Biog- 
raphy: Saints and Their Biographers in the Middle Ages (Oxford: Oxford University 
Press, 1988); Peter Brown, Cult of the Saints: Its Rise and Function in Latin Chris- 
tianity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981); and Richard Kieckhefer and 
George D. Bond, eds., Sainthood: Its Manifestations in World Religions (Berkeley: 
University of California Press, 1988). Also, a more recent article by Felice Lifshitz 

144 Notes to Pages 27-29 

explains how dangerous the term “hagiography” has become and suggests that we 
understand it as modern creation, void of meaning in the Middle Ages because it 
reflects only a political agenda; see “Beyond Positivism and Genre: ‘Hagiographi- 
cal’ Texts as Historical Narrative,” Viator 25 (1994): 94 — 1 1 3 . 

4. E. Catherine Dunn has suggested that recitation of hagiographies ac- 
tually resembled theatrical performances; see The Gallican Saint's Life and the 
Late Roman Dramatic Tradition (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University Press, 

5. Saint Helena, Constantine’s mother, popularized the Holy Land for 
Western audiences and, according to tradition, first located bits of the True 
Cross. Eusebius includes the narrative of Helena’s discovery and other pious 
attributes in his Vita Constantin /, PG 20.905-1230. Also, see the important sec- 
ondary works Robert L. Wilken, The Land Called Holy: Palestine in Christian 
Literature and Thought (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992); Jan Willem 
Drijvers, Helena Augusta: The Mother of Constantine the Great and the Legend of 
Her Finding of the True Cross (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1992); and P. W. L. Walker, 
Holy City , Holy Places (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990). 

6. See Caroline Williams’s arguments concerning the political use of 
shrine pilgrimage in “The Cult of Alid Saints in the Fatimid Monument of 
Cairo, Part 1: The Mosque of al-Aqmar,” Muqarnas 1 (1985): 37-52. 

7. VP , incipit, MGH SRM 1.2.212: “cum sit diversitas meritorum virtu- 
tumque, una tamen omnes vita corporis alit in mundo.” See also James’s transla- 
tion, 28. 

8. See, for example, M. van Uytfanghe, “Modeles bibliques dans l’hagi- 
ographie,” in Le Moyen Age et la Bible , ed. Pierre Riche and Guy Lobrichon 
(Paris: Editions Beauchesne, 1984). 

9. One particularly important genre to arise out of Egypt and Syria was 
the collection of “sayings” from desert fathers (and mothers). See th eApophtheg- 
mata Patrum , PG 65.71-440; also see the translation by Benedicta Ward, The 
Desert Christian: Sayings of the Desert Fathers , the Alphabetical Collection (New 
York: Macmillan, 1975). 

10. R. A. Markus, for example, provides an important discussion of ascetic 
deeds as new manifestations of, or perhaps new alternatives to, physical martyr- 
dom. He also interprets desert theology in relation to its neo-Platonic heritage. 
See his The End of Ancient Christianity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 

11. See Vita Antonii , PG 26.835-976; also see the English translation by 
Robert C. Gregg, The Life of Antony and the Letter to Marcellinus , Classics of 
Western Spirituality (New York: Paulist Press, 1980). 

12. Athanasius details Anthony’s miraculous talents after his transforma- 
tion in the cave, all in imitatio Christi. See, for example, Vita Antonii 14, 38. 

Notes to Pages 29-3 1 145 

13. For an overview of missionary efforts in the West, see Richard Sullivan, 
“The Papacy and Missionary Activity in the Early Middle Ages,” in Christian 
Missionary Activity in the Early Middle Ages , Variorum Collected Studies (Aider- 
shot: Variorum, Ashgate 1994), III, 46-104. 

14. Saint Jerome is famous for his female entourage that supported him and 
his missionary exploits. See, for example, his Epitaphium Sanctae Paulae , CSEL 
5 5(2). 3 06-51, for his idealized female patrona, Paula. 

15. Sulpicius Severus, Vita S. Martini , SC 133; also see the English transla- 
tion by F. R. Hoare, “The Life of Saint Martin of Tours,” in Soldiers of Christ. 

16. Coon provides an important view of the “pastoral bishop” in light of 
Hebrew, Christian, and Roman virtues; see Sacred Fictions, 23-36. 

17. Henne, “Merovingian and Carolingian Hagiography,” 415-28. 

18. See, for example, VP 19.4. Herein Gregory describes the various cures 
that accompanied oil that Monegund had blessed before her death. One such 
miracle involved a group of nuns applying the oil to a deacon’s swollen foot, 
which was immediately cured. Gregory also lamented the frequent visits of pious 
petitioners who filed away parts of the saints’ tombs. According to his account, 
Bishop Cassianus of Autun’s tomb actually suffered structural damage after so 
much filing. See GC 73. 

19. Katrien Henne, “Audire, legere, vulgo: An Attempt to Define Public 
Use and Comprehensibility of Carolingian Hagiography,” in Latin and the Ro- 
mance Language in the Early Middle Ages, ed. Roger Wright (New York: Rout- 
ledge, 1991); and Julia Smith, “The Problem of Female Sanctity in Carolingian 
Europe, c. 780-920,” Past and Present 146 (1995): 3-37. 

20. For discussion of Hume and Gibbon, see Brown, Cult of the Saints, 
13-22; and Patrick Geary, “Saints, Scholars, and Society,” in Living with the 
Dead (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994), 9-10. 

21. See John Kitchens’s discussion of Delehaye and Peter Brown in Saints' 
Lives and the Rhetoric of Gender: Male and Female in Merovingian Hagiography 
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 3-22. 

22. Peter Brown has greatly revolutionized the way hagiography is studied; 
see his Cult of the Saints and The Body and Society: Men, Women and Sexual Renun- 
ciation in Early Christianity (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988). Caro- 
line Walker Bynum has also, of course, contributed greatly to the study of gender 
designations in hagiography; see Bynum, Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious 
Significance of Food to Medieval Women (Berkeley: University of California Press, 
1987); and Carolyn Walker Bynum, Stevan Harrel, and Paula Richman, eds., 
Gender and Religion: On the Complexity of Symbols (Boston: Beacon Press, 1986). 

23. Among the earliest extant Shkite pilgrimage-literature to include all 
parts of the Islamic world was compiled by All b. Abi Bakr al-Harawi (d. 1215), 
Kitdb al-ishardt ild maTifdt al-ziydrdt. 

146 Notes to Pages 3 1-32 

24. See Josef W. Meri’s discussion in “The Etiquette of Devotion in the 
Islamic Cult of Saints,” in The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, 
ed. James Howard-Johnston and Paul Antony Hayward (Oxford: Oxford Uni- 
versity Press, 1999), 263-86. 

2 5 . There exists a distinct understanding of “sainthood” among many Mus- 
lim audiences, however. Many Sunni, Shf ite, and especially Sufi Muslims rec- 
ognize local saint figures, usually associated with gifts of healing. For reviews of 
sanctity in Islam, see Grace Martin Smith, ed., Manifestations of Sainthood in Islam 
(Istanbul: Isis Press, 1993); and Jan Knappert, Islamic Legends: Histories of the He- 
roes, Saints, and Prophets of Islam (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1985). Also see the discussions 
of Sufi sanctity in the translated primary source of al-Haldm al-Tirmidhl, The 
Concept of Sainthood in early Islamic Mysticism: Two Works by al-Haklm al-Tirmidhl, 
trans. Bernd Radtke and John O’Kane (Concord, Mass.: Paul & Co., 1996); and 
Margaret Smith’s description in RabPa the Mystic and Her Fellow Saints in Islam 
(Cambridge: University Press, 1928). The closest word in Arabic to the Latin 
sanctus is wall, which translates as “friend” (Qur’an 10.62). In early sources, wall 
designated a social and legal relationship; friend denoted a legal patron, benefac- 
tor, or simple companion. Later it assumed the meaning “friend of God” and thus 
became associated with sanctity. See ET, 1109-11; and Vincent J. Cornell, Realm 
of the Saint: Power and Authority in Moroccan Sufism (Austin: University of Texas 
Press, 1998). 

26. See M. J. Kister’s discussion of the controversies surrounding Jewish 
Haggadah and Christian saint stories’ inclusion in early Muslim hadith trans- 
mission: Studies injdhiliyya and Early Islam (London: Variorum Reprints, 1980), 
chap. 15. 

27. By the ninth century, miracle stories about the Prophet began to cir- 
culate in biographical and battlefield ( maghdzi ) accounts. Ibn Ishiq’s Sira (Bi- 
ography) of the Prophet survives only in Ibn Hisham’s (d. 834) recension, for 
example. See also Chase Robinson, “Prophecy and Holy Men in Early Islam,” in 
Howard-Johnston and Hayward, eds., The Cult of the Saints in Late Antiquity and 
the Middle Ages, 241-62 . 

28. The Qur’an outlines virtues of the believers very much akin to Moses’ 
Ten Commandments in 17.23-39. It also provides direction for ritual and laws 
for the community; for example, see the directives established for divorce, 
2.228-33. And, finally, the Qur’an describes the events of the final judgment, 
which will include a book of deeds with the promise of hellfire and paradise; see, 
for example, 18.47-49. 

29. The Qur’an commends the virtues of many of the same prophets as 
Jewish and Christian traditions, such as Adam, Noah, Moses, Joseph, and Jesus. 
See, for example, the Qur’anic description of Abraham as an upright Muslim 
because he bowed in submission (Islam) to Allah, 3.67. 

Notes to Pages 33-36 147 

30. For a good introduction to hadith literature, see R. Marston Speight, 
“The Function of Hadith as Commentary on the Qur’an, as Seen in the Six 
Authoritative Collections,” in Approaches to the History of the Interpretation of the 
Qur'an , ed. Andrew Rippin (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 63-81. 

31. Some of the most important works are al-Kulaym, al-Furu min al-kdfi 
(4 vols., Tehran, 1334/1956), and al-Rawda min al-kdfi (text and Persian trans. 
H. Rasuli Mahallati, Tehran, 1389/1969); Ibn Babawayh, Kitdh man layahduruhu 
al-faqih (ed. al-Musawi al-Kharsan, 5th ed., 1390/1970); Tusi, Tahdhih al-ahkdm 
(ed. al-Kharsan, Najaf, 1375-76/1955-56), and Kitab al-istibsdr (ed. Al-Kharsan, 
Najaf, 1375-76/1955-56). 

32. Maher Jarrar provides an important survey of Imami authority in medi- 
eval communities in “ Sirat ahl al-Kisd'\ Early Shki Sources on the Biography of 
the Prophet,” in The Biography of Muhammad: The Issue of the Sources , ed. Harald 
Motzki (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2000), 98-129. 

33. Ibn Babawayh, Llal al-shardT wa l-ahkdm (Najaf, 1385/1966), chap. 9, as 
quoted in Amir-Moezzi, The Divine Guide , 45. 

34. This is, of course, one genre of Shkite hadith. Other collections differ 
very little from Sunni hadith, particularly those dealing with Islamic law ( fiqh ). 
These, for the most part, outline the same responsibilities of every Muslim, in- 
cluding prayer, fasting, and tithing. See Amir-Moezzi, The Divine Guide , 22-28. 

35. Amir-Moezzi includes an important survey of early Shkite texts; see 
The Divine Guide , 19-22. 

36. See Muhammad Mustafa Azami, Studies in Early Hadith Literature , with 
a Critical Edition of Some Early Texts (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islaml, 1968), and his 
On Schacht's Origins of Muhammad Jurisprudence (Riyadh: King Saud University, 
1985). Also see Nabia Abbott, Studies in Arabic Literary Papyri , v. 2, Oriental 
Institute Publications, no. 276 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967); 
and her Arabic Literature to the End of the Umayyad Period. Cambridge History of 
Arabic Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 289-98. 

37. See Ignaz Goldziher, Introduction to Islamic Theology and Law , trans. An- 
dras Hamori and Ruth Hamori (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981); 
and Joseph Schacht, An Introduction to Islamic Law (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 

38. G. H. A. Joynboll, Studies on the Origins and Uses of Islamic Hadith (Brook- 
field, Vt.: Variorum, 1996). Also see an important review of hadith historiogra- 
phy by Barbara Stowasser, “The Mothers of the Believers in the Hadith,” Muslim 
World 82 (1992): 1-36. 

39. Uri Rubin takes up a similar methodology in his important work, The 
Eye of the Beholder. 

40. See Roger Savory’s important work, Iran under the Safavids (Cambridge: 
Cambridge University Press, 1980). 

148 Notes to Pages 36-38 

41 . Mahmoud Ayoub correlates many of al-Majlisi’s hadith with earlier col- 
lections in Redemptive Suffering. 

42. John Walbridge expressed this opinion, which is shared by many Is- 
lamicists, in conversation. Jarrar discusses many of the problems and benefits of 
using al-Majlisi as a source in “Sirat ahl al-kisd”\ 99-100. 

43 . Al-MajlisT himself seems confounded by some of the mystical imagery. 
In one beautiful hadith, Allah is described as mixing light and spirit to form v Ali 
and Muhammad; and then — from "Ali, Muhammad, Hasan, and Husayn — Allah 
formed the heavens and the Sun and Moon. Fatima is described as a radiant lamp 
that Allah hung as an “earring” (« qurt ) from his throne. Al-Majlisi’s only exegesis 
is that al-qurt designates an earring that hangs from the lobe of an ear (!); see 
v. 43.2, 18. 

44. Rizvi puts forth a similar argument regarding Safavid authorities in 
general in “Gendered Patronage,” 123-53. 

45. For a basic introduction to early Christian theology and these particu- 
lar theologians, see Eric Osborn, The Emergence of Christian Theology (Cambridge: 
Cambridge University Press, 1993); and Rowan Greer, Broken Lights and Mended 
Lives : Theology and Common Life in the Early Church (University Park: Pennsylvania 
State University Press, 1986). 

46. The debate over Mary’s Immaculate Conception is a long and circuitous 
one. Uniquely among most Marian traditions, this theology arose and won the 
most adherents in the West. Augustine and Ambrose championed Mary’s ex- 
istence free from sin (or mistakes), but the notion of original sin was itself still 
evolving. Many medieval theologians, such as Saint Bernard of Clairvoux, later 
warned against its acceptance. Augustine’s most famous support of the theology 
came from his De Natura et Gratia , 36, 42; CSEL , 238-40. For secondary discus- 
sions, see Luigi Gambero, Mary and the Lathers of the Church: The Blessed Virgin 
Mary in Patristic Thought , trans. Thomas Buffer (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 
1999); Jaroslav Pelikan, Mary through the Centuries: Her Place in the History of 
Culture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996); and Marina Warner, Alone of 
All Her Sex: The Myth and the Cult of the Virgin Mary (New York: Vintage Books, 
1983). The theology was only approved in 1854. 

47. Pope Gregory illustrates the importance of hagiography as a genre 
when he writes his He Vita etMiraculis Venerahilis Benedicti. See Joan Peterson’s 
discussion in The Dialogues of Gregory the Great in Their Late Antique Cultural 
Background (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1984). 

48. See Giselle de Nie’s discussion of Gregory in Views from a Many- 
Windowed Tower: Studies of Imagination in the Works of Gregory of Tours (Am- 
sterdam: Rodopi, 1987). Also, Van Dam has provided several translations of 
Gregory’s hagiographies as well as important discussions of his world in Saints 
and Their Miracles. 

Notes to Pages 38-42 149 

49. Fortunatus, De Vita Sanctae Radegundis Liber /, MGH SRM 2.364-77; 
Baudonivia, De Vita Sanctae Radegundis Liber II, MGH SRM 2.377-95. 

50. See Rosamond McKitterick, “Frauen und Schriftlichkeit im Friihmit- 
telalter,” in Weibliche Lebensgestaltung im Friihen Mittelalter , ed. H. W. Goetz 
(Cologne: Bohlau, 1991), 65-118; and Jocelyn Wogan-Browne, “Saints’ Lives 
and the Female Reader,” Forum for Modern Language Studies 27 (1991): 314-32. 

51. See, for example, Ahmad v Abd al-Raziq, “Trois fondations feminines 
dans l’Egypte mamlouke, ” Revue des Etudes Islamiques 41 (1973): 96; and Carl 
Petry, “A Paradox of Patronage,” Muslim World 73 (1983): 199-200. Two im- 
portant works that recover women’s economic and cultural contributions to so- 
ciety are Julia Bray’s “Men, Women and Slaves in Abbasid Society” and Nadia 
Maria El Cheikh’s “Gender and Politics in the Harem of al-Muqtadir,” both in 
Brubaker and Smith, eds., Gender in the Early Medieval World. 

52. See Jonathan Berkey’s important work, The Transmission of Knowledge in 
Medieval Cairo: A Social History of Islamic Education (Princeton: Princeton Uni- 
versity Press, 1991), esp. 161-81. 

53. See Muhammad Hisham Kabbani and Laleh Bakhtiar, Encyclopedia of 
Muhammad's Women Companions and the Traditions They Related (Chicago: ABC 
International Group; distributed by Kazi Publications, 1998). 

Chapter Three. Virgins and Wombs 

1 . Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and 
Taboo (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1966). 

2. Ibid., 114-28. 

3. See David Brakke, “The Problematization of Nocturnal Emissions in 
Early Christian Syria, Egypt, and Gaul,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 3.4 
(1995): 419-60; Burrus, “Word and Flesh”; and Brown, The Body and Society. 

4. There are, however, hadith that describe Hasan’s and Husayn’s birth 
from Fatima’s left thigh, suggesting Fatima’s corporal integrity. Ibn v Abd al- 
Wahhab, 'Uyun al-mujizdt , 61-62, discussed in Spellberg, Politics , Gender , and 
the Islamic Past, 160. 

5. Al-MajlisT, v. 11, p. 173. See Uri Rubin, “Pre-existence and Light: 
Aspects of the Concept of Nur Muhammad,” Israel Oriental Studies 5 (1975): 

6. The light was threatened not only by impurities associated with the 
body but also by illicit sex in general, including forbidden relations or sex outside 
of Islamic marriage. Adam’s son Seth posed a particular problem here because 
tradition taught that Adam’s sons married their sisters, a relation forbidden by 
Islamic law. Thus other traditions postulated that Seth married a woman from 

150 Notes to Pages 42-45 

paradise (the houris of paradise, or haura > ) whom Allah sent to preserve the pro- 
phetic light. See Rubin, “Pre-existence and Light,” 73-74. 

7. Rubin, “Pre-existence and Light,” 92. 

8. Ibid., 93. 

9. Al-Majlisi, v. 11, p. 173. 

10. See Ruth Padel, “Women: Model for Possession by Greek Daemons,” 
in Images of Women in Antiquity , ed. Averil Cameron and Amelie Kuhrt (Detroit: 
Wayne State University Press, 1983), 3-17. 

1 1 . See the fine discussion of menstrual contamination in Thomas Buckley 
and Alma Gottlieb, eds., Blood Magic: the Anthropology of Menstruation (Berkeley: 
University of California Press, 1988). 

12. I am using daemon as it is used in Greek literature, i.e., devoid of any 
Christian association with evil. Instead, as in the Greek context, daemon could 
refer to any divine spirit, whether it resulted in benign possession or chaos. 

13. See, for example, Janice Boddy’s “Womb as Oasis: The Symbolic Con- 
text of Pharaonic Circumcision in Rural Northern Sudan,” American Ethnologist 9 
(1982): 682-98. Sondra Hale presents a nice description of male/female space in Is- 
lamic homes in “Women’s Culture/Men’s Culture: Gender, Separation, and Space 
in Africa and North America,” American Behavioral Scientist 3 1 (1987): 115-34. See 
also Gholamhossein Memarian and Frank Edward Brown, “Climate, Culture, and 
Religion: Aspects of the Traditional Courtyard House in Iran,” Journal of Architec- 
tural and Planning Research 20 .3 (2003): 181-98. 

14. Perhaps the most famous example of women being possessed by a 
divine presence in the Greek world is the oracle at Delphi. See Herodotus’s 
Histories for a complete description of the Delphic practices. Also, Euripides de- 
scribes the bacchanalia practices (and possession by Dionysus) in his Bacchae. 
Sophocles describes how such possession could also be a curse. According to 
his Agamemnon , Cassandra’s gift of prophecy becomes a curse after she refuses 
Apollo’s advances. 

15. In the Bacchae , for example, Euripides explains that women possessed 
by Dionysus represent a potential threat to the social order: they cast aside 
their proscribed gender roles and behave chaotically, engaging in sexual frenzy 
and nursing wild animals at their breasts. Padel briefly explains the archetype 
of the possessed woman and her chaotic presence in male-ordered societies in 
“Women: Model for Possession by Greek Daemons,” 6. 

16. See Gary Anderson’s discussion of Jewish exegesis on sexuality, pro- 
creation, and the Garden of Eden in “Celibacy or Consummation in the Gar- 
den? Reflections on Early Jewish and Christian Interpretations of the Garden of 
Eden,” Harvard Theological Review 82.2 (1989): 121-48. 

17. Scholars such as Rosemary Radford Ruether, Elizabeth Clark, Virginia 
Burrus, and Averil Cameron have devoted considerable attention to women in 

Notes to Pages 45-50 151 

the early church. Dyan Elliott surveys celibacy in patristic traditions in Spiritual 
Marriage: Sexual Abstinence in Medieval Wedlock (Princeton: Princeton University 
Press, 1993), 16-50. And, of course, see especially Elaine Pagels’s discussion of 
virginal asceticism in Adam , Eve, and the Serpent (New York: Vintage Books, 
1988), 3-31,78-97. 

18. Acts of Paul and Thecla , in New Testament Apocrypha , ed. and trans. 
E. Hennecke and W. Schneemelcher (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1965). 

19. Clement, Stromata 3.58, in Alexandrian Christianity , trans. John Ernest, 
Leonard Oulton, and Henry Chadwick, Library of Christian Classics 2 (Phila- 
delphia: Westminster Press, 1954). See Rom. 13.13-14. 

20. See Pagels’s argument in Adam, Eve, and the Serpent, 26-31. Pagels dis- 
cusses, in particular, Irenaeus, Against the Heresies 3,22,4; and Clement’s Stromata 

21. See David Brakke’s discussion of Athanasius’s ascetic program in Atha- 
nasius and the Politics of Asceticism (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995), 142-200; and 
Coon’s description of Antony’s vita in Sacred Fictions, 72-77 . 

22. See Gregg’s translation, Athanasius, Life of Antony, esp. 37-39. 

2 3 . See Coon’s discussion of harlot-saints in Sacred Fictions, 7 1 -94; and Bene- 
dicta Ward’s Harlots of the Desert: A Study of Repentance in Early Monastic Sources, 
Cistercian Studies 106 (Kalamazoo, Mich.: Cistercian Publications, 1987). 

24. See Coon, Sacred Fictions, 76. Coon concludes, “tombs and cells of 
holy women, on the other hand, function as the fixed places of their piety and 
are symbolic of saintly women’s inviolable chastity.” The desert tombs, then, 
symbolize the impenetrable female form identified with the Virgin Mary. Mary 
of Egypt’s vita, for example, proclaims the Virgin Mary as the impetus for the 
harlot’s conversion and radical renunciation of the world and flesh. See Vita S. 
Mariae Aegyptiacae, Meretricis, 16 (PL 73.671-90). 

25. Odes of Solomon, ed. and trans. James Charlesworth (Missoula, Mont.: 
Scholars Press, 1977), Ode 19, 82. 

26. Also, in the apocalyptic text The Ascension of Isaiah, Mary’s painless par- 
turition occurred without the Virgin’s knowledge. She simply glanced down and 
saw Jesus: “Mary . . . beheld with her eyes and saw a small child, and she was 
amazed.” See The Ascension of Isaiah, 11, in New Testament Apocrypha, 374-88. 

2 7 . Protevangelium of James, 8.1. 

28. See Mary Douglas’s discussion of the tabernacle as body in Leviticus as 
Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), esp. chap. 4. 

2 9 . Protevangelium of James, 10.1. 

30. Ibid., 11.1. 

31. Ibid., 20.1-2. 

32. Ambrose, De virginibus, Liber II, 3 A 9: Ergo Sancta Maria disciplinam 
vitae informet, Thecla doceat immolari. PL 16.21 1. 

152 Notes to Pages 50-52 

33. Ambrose, De virginibus , Liber II, 2.9-10: Prodire domo nescia, nisi cum 
ad Ecclesiam conveniret, et hoc ipsum cum parentibus, aut propinquis. Domes- 
tico operosa secreto, forensi stipata comitatu; nullo meliore tamen sui custode 
quam se ipsa: quae incessu affatuque venerabilis, non tarn vestigium pedis tolleret, 
quam gradum virtutis attollerert . . . ingressus angeli inventa domi in penetrali- 
bus, sine comite, ne quis intentionem abrumperet, ne quis obstreperet; neque 
enim comites feminas desiderabat, quae bonas cogitationes comites habebat. PL 
16.209-10; Library ofNicene and Post-Nicene Fathers , III. 19, p. 375. Compare with 
the Greek works of Athanasius, First Letter to Virgins , 13: “For [Mary] desired 
good works, doing what is proper, . . . she did not desire to be seen by people. 
Nor did she have an eagerness to leave her house . . . ; rather, she remained in her 
house being calm, imitating the fly in honey. She virtuously spent the excess of 
her manual labour on the poor. . . . And she did not permit anyone near her body 
unless it was covered, and she controlled her anger. . . . She was not a braggart, 
but completely humble. . . . She forgot her good works and her merciful deeds: 
she did them secretly.” Translated in Brakke, Athanasius , 278. 

34. See, for example, Ambrose, De institutione virginis , Liber I, 60-61, PL 
16.321; and Jerome, Epistle 22, 25, PL 22.411. 

35. Ambrose, De virginibus , Liber II, 2.18: quotidie pro redemptione cor- 
poris Christus immolatur. PL 16.211; Library ofNicene and Post-Nicene Fathers , 
III. 19, p. 376. 

3 6. Ambrose, De virginibus , Liber 11,2. 18: Beatae virgines, quae tarn immor- 
tali spiratis gratia, ut horti floribus, ut templa religione, ut altaria sacerdote! PL 
16.21 1; Library ofNicene and Post-Nicene Fathers , III. 19, p. 376. 

37. Ambrose, De institutione virginis, 52-53: Et infra dicit propheta vidisse 
se in monto alto nimis aedificationem civitatis cujus portae plurimae significan- 
tur; una tamen clausa describitur, de qua sic ait: Et convertime secundum viam 
portae sanctorum exterioris, quae respicit ad Orientem, et haec erat clausa. Et 
ait ad me Dominus: Porta haec clausa erit, et non aperietur, et nemo transibit 
per earn, quoniam Dominus Deus Israel transibit per earn. . . . Quae est haec 
porta, nisi Maria; ideo clausa, quia virgo? Porta igitur Maria, per quam Christus 
intravit in hunc mundum . . . quae clausa erat, et non aperiebatur. Transivit per 
earn Christus, sed non aperuit. PL 16.234. 

38. Jerome, Dialogus adversus Pelagianos, PL 23.517-626. 

39. Jerome, Adversus Helvidium : Definitiv sermo Dei, quid sit primogeni- 
tum, Omne, inquit, quod aperit vulvam. PL 2 3.202. In this treatise Jerome refuted 
Helvidius’s claim that married life was just as sacred as celibate life. After all, Hel- 
vidius argued, Mary had more children after Jesus because the Gospels referred to 
him as the “first born.” Jerome retorted that “first born” refers to “everything that 
opens the womb.” Thus Jesus might have been the first born, but Mary assuredly 
remained a virgin afterward. 

Notes to Pages 52-53 153 

40. Cameron, “Virginity as Metaphor,” alludes to the symbolic and practi- 
cal applications of virginal imagery in late antiquity. She describes how male au- 
thors employed virginity as a metaphor for salvation, the paradox of Christianity, 
and power. She suggests: “Feminist theologians would do well to consider again 
the question why the cult of the Virgin became prominent just at the time when 
the strong Christian women whose memory they have successfully rehabilitated 
were at their most active” (198). For descriptions of late antique women’s vita 
activa , see Cloke, This Female Man of God-, and Jo Ann McNamara, “Muffled 
Voices: The Lives of Consecrated Women in the Fourth Century,” in Medieval 
Religious Women , vol. 1: Distant Echoes, ed. John A. Nichols and Lillian Thomas 
Shank (Kalamazoo, Mich.: Cistercian Publications, 1984). 

41. See J erome, Epistle 22, PL 22.3 94-42 5 . 

42 . This “elite” asceticism promoted by Jerome (. Epistle 22) and other West- 
ern theologians appears almost ludicrous compared to the regimens practiced in 
the eastern deserts. Jerome directed ascetic women to refrain from eating sweets 
or “dainty dishes,” drinking wine (the “first weapon used by demons against the 
young”), and wearing too much silk. Jerome’s own regimen was one of ascetic 
snobbery or, as translated by Peter Brown, “holy arrogance” (Epistle 22, 1.16); 
see Brown, The Body and Society , 366-86. 

43. Jerome, Epistle 108.15: Liberalitas sola excedebat modum. Et usuras 
tribuens, versuram quoque saepius faciebat, ut nulli stipem rogantium denega- 
ret . . . testem invocans Deum, se pro illius nomine cuncta facere; hoc et habere 
voti, ut mendicans ipsa moreretur: ut unum nummum filiae non dimitteret, et 
in funere suo aliena sindone involveretur. PL 22.890-91; English translation 
in Ross S. Kraemer, ed., Maenads , Martyrs , Matrons , Monastics: A Sourcebook 
on Women's Religions in the Greco-Roman World (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 
1988), 127-68. 

44. See Coon’s eloquent description of Paula’s relinquishment of tradi- 
tional virtues for Christian charisma, Sacred Fictions, 103-9. 

45. See especially de Nie’s argument in “Consciousness Fecund through 
God,” 151. De Nie traces the metaphor of spiritual fecundity from late antique 
authors such as Origen through early medieval figures such as Fortunatus’s bi- 
ography of Radegund. Also, Gregory of Tours describes the apostle Paul’s deeds 
in terms of fecundity; Paul gave birth to believers and nourished them with spiri- 
tual milk. See GM 28: Paulus vero apostolus post revolutum anni circulum ipsa 
die, qua Petrus apostolus passus, apud urbem Romam gladio percussus occubit. 
Ex cuius sacro corpore lac defluxit et aqua. Nec mirum, si lac eius manavit ex 
corpore, qui gentes incredulas et parturivit et peperit ac lacte spiritali nutritas ad 
cibum solidum Scripturarum Sanctarum opaca reserando perduxit. 

46. Origen, In Numeros Homilia, 20.2, PG 17.728. Discussed in de Nie, 
“Consciousness Fecund through God,” 102. 

154 Notes to Pages 53-56 

47. Augustine discusses the fecundity of the mind/soul in Sermo 15.8, ed. 
Germanus Morin, Sancti August ini Sermones post Maurinos Reperti (Rome: Tipo- 
grafia Polyglotta Vaticana, 1930): Ergo in mente pariant membra Christi, sicut 
Maria in ventre virgo peperit Christum; et sic eritis matres Christi. 

48. Mary’s obedient act, of course, earned her the appellation God’s submis- 
sive “handmaid.” Hagiographers constructed the lives of virgins and Merovin- 
gian queens in imitation of this virtue, labeling them the “ancillae Dei,” or the 
little servants of God. See Vita Radegundis , 1.4; Vita Rusticulae , 10. 

49. Jerome, Epistle 22.24. Augustine, too, teaches that virgins may imitate 
Mary’s conception (an exact type of spiritual fecundity) through their faith: 
“ipsae cum Maria matres Christi sunt, si Patris eius faciunt voluntatem.” See 
Augustine’s De sancta virginitate 5, PL 40.399. 

50. Avitus, Poematum 6.65-66, MGH AA 6:2.277: Scriberis in thalamos ac 
magni foedera regis/Et cupit electam speciem sibi iungere Christus. 

51. Avitus, Poematum 6.201-4, MGHAA 6:2.281: Tu Mariam sequeris, dono 
cui contigit alto/ virginis et matris gemina gaudere corona/ Conciperet cum carne 
deum caelique creator/ Intraret clausum reserans mysteria ventrem./ . . . sed nec 
tibi gloria tanti/ Defuerit facti, si Christum credula cord e/ Concipiens operum 
parias pia germina caelo. See also the translation and erudite commentary by 
George W. Shea, The Poems ofAlcimus Ecdicius Avitus , Medieval and Renaissance 
Texts and Studies, 172 (Tempe: Arizona State University, 1997), esp. 138-40. 

52. Avitus, Poematum 6.280-81, MGH AA 6:2.283: animum potius quam 
vincere sexum. See also Shea’s translation, 140. 

53. Avitus, Poematum 6.413-14. 

54. See de Nie’s discussion of Eugenia in “Consciousness Fecund through 
God,” 126. 

55. See Vita S. Eugenia , PL 73.602-24; Avitus discusses Eugenia in Poem 
6. See also Shea’s insightful discussion of Avitus’s choice and combination of 
hagiographies in bk. 6, 57-70. 

56. Ceasarius of Arles, Regula Virginum , SC 345. An English translation 
is also available in Maria Caritas McCarthy, The Rule for Nuns of Caesarius of 
A rles (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University Press, 1960). Also see William E. 
Klingshirn, Caesarius of Arles: The Making of a Christian Community in Late An- 
tique Gaul (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), for a survey of Cae- 
sarius ’s cultural context. 

5 7 . Vita Radegundis , II. 2 4. 

58. Vita Radegundis , 1.17-19, 22-26. Coon discusses the ascetic displays 
unique to Fortunatus’s rendition as compared to Baudonivia’s vita in Sacred Fic- 
tions, , 126-35. 

59. Fortunatus, Carminum 11.6, 9-14, MGH AA 4/1.260: ac si uno partu 
mater Radegundis utrosques/ visceribus castis progenuisset, eram / et tamquam 

Notes to Pages 56-57 155 

pariter nos ubera cara beatae/ parissent uno lacte fluente duos. See also Judith 
George’s translation in Venantius Fortunatus: Personal and Political Poems , Trans- 
lated Texts for Historians, 23 (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1995), 
103-4. Fortunatus wrote this text, in part, to defend his relationship with Agnes 
against rumor and innuendo. Herein he identifies their love as that of spiritual 
siblings rather than physical lust. 

60. It is important to note here that Merovingian hagiography and theol- 
ogy do not praise the virtues of virginity as enthusiastically as late antique texts. 
In many ways these texts provide the history of the Franks, i.e., their families, 
their networks often achieved through marital ties, and their Christianization. 

61. Fortunatus, Carminum 6.5.237-44, MGH AA 4/1.142-43; see also 
George’s translation, Venantia Fortunatus , 46M-7. The passage reads: iungitur ergo 
toro regali culmine virgo/ et magno meruit plebis amore coli/ hos quoque muneribus 
permulcens, vocibus illos/ et lict ignotos sic facit esse suos/ utque fidelis ei sit gens 
armata, per arma/ iurat iure suo, se quoque lege ligat./ Regnabat placido conponens 
tramite vitam, pauperibus tribuens advena mater erat. As George points out, For- 
tunatus wrote his poem on Galswinth in commemoration of her very controversial 
death. Chilperic had presented a rather large morgengabe (morning gift) to his new 
bride, which his brother and sister-in-law, Brunhild (also Galswinth’s sister), then 
disputed. Also, as rumor had it, Galswinth’s death was orchestrated by Chilperic and 
his favored wife, Fredegund. See Gregory of Tours’s account in LH , 4.28. 

62. Fortunatus, Carminum 6.5.275-80. Gregory of Tours also records this 
miracle in LH , 4.28. 

63. Fortunatus later confirms Galswinth’s presence in heaven where she 
“applauds the Lord’s glorious mother, Mary,” and “serves under God.” Fortu- 
natus, Carminum 6.5.363-64. 

64. Qur’an 4.57; see also 3.15, 198; 15.45-48; 36.55-58; 76.5-22; and 
78.3 1-35 for other descriptions of paradise. 

65. Al-Qadhi, Daqd-iq al-akhbdr al-kabirfi ahikr al-janna wa l-ndr\ Al-SuyutI, 
Kitdb al-durar al-hisdn fil- ba'th wa ha' a imi l-jindn. Discussed in Abdelwahab 
Bouhdiba, Sexuality in Islam , trans. Alan Sheridan (Boston: Routledge & Kegan 
Paul, 1985). 

66. See Bouhdiba’s discussion of the houris in Sexuality in Islam , 73-76. Al- 
Suyutl describes in careful detail how the male sexual appetite increases: “each 
climax is extended and extended and lasts for twenty- four years”; noted in Bouh- 
diba, 75. 

67. The Qur’an dictates that men may have as many as four wives as long as 
they are all treated equally and justly; see 4.3. 

68. Bouhdiba even uses the term “infinite orgasm,” 72-87. 

69. For a general discussion of homoerotic imagery in Arabic poetry, 
see J. W. Wright Jr. and Everett K. Rowson, Homoeroticism in Classical Arabic 

156 Notes to Pages 58-61 

Literature (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997); also, for a specific dis- 
cussion of homoerotic imagery in paradisiacal texts, see Aziz al-Azmeh, “Rheto- 
ric for the Senses: A Consideration of Muslim Paradise Narratives,” Journal of 
Arabic Literature 26 (1 995): 2 1 5-3 1 . 

70. See Shahla Haeri, Law of Desire: Temporary Marriage in ShPi Iran (Syra- 
cuse: Syracuse University Press, 1989). 

71. See Caroline Walker Bynum’s discussion in The Resurrection of the Body 
in Western Christianity , 200-1336 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995), 
esp. chaps. 1,2. 

72. Ibid., 100. 

7 3 . See Qur’an 2.187: “approach your wives; they are your garments and you 
are their garments.” Also, 4.1 suggests that men and women are created from the 
same soul; marriage thus returns the masculine and feminine elements to perfect 
unity. See Sachiko Murata, The Tao of Islam: A Sourcebook on Gender Relationships 
in Islamic Thought (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992). 

74. It is important to note, however, that purification is both spiritual and 
physical. Without the right “intent of the heart,” the physical acts of ablution 
remain incomplete. 

75. See Bouhdiba, Sexuality in Islam , 74-76. 

76. Fatima’s fashioning as al-Batul and Maryam al-kubrd appears in early 
Shkite hadith collections such as al-Kulayni, Al-Usul min al-kdfi\ and Ibn Afid 
al-Wahhab, ' Uyun al-mujizat\ see Spellberg’s discussion in Politics , Gender , and 
the Islamic Past , 156-61; and the important work of Jane Dammen McAuliffe, 
“Chosen of All Women: Mary and Fatima in Qur’anic Exegesis,” Islamochristiana 
7 (1981): 19-28. 

77. A1 -MajlisI, v. 43.1, p. 4: qala al-nabi lamma'araja bl ilaal-sama’ akhadha 
bi-yadl jibra’il fa-adkhalani al-janna fa-nawalani min rutabiha fa-akaltuhu fa- 
tahawala dhalika nutfa fl sulbi fa-lamma habattu ila al-ard wa aqa'atu khadlja fa- 
hamalat bi-fatima. 

78. Ibid., v. 43.1, p. 5: fa-ana ashammu minhara’ihat al-janna. 

79. See al-Majlisi, v. 43, pp. 5, 15, 21, for his sources and variants of the 

80. Al-MajlisT, v. 43.2, p. 15: allati lam tara humra qattu ay lam tahid. 

81. See al-Majlisi, v. 43, pp. 15-16, for variants of the traditions. 

82. Al-Majlisi, v. 43.1, p. 3: dakhalat "alayha arba" niswa sumr tawal ka- 
annahunna min nisa’ bani hashim fa-faza v at minhunna lamma ra’athunna fa-qalat 
ihdahunna: latahzani yakhadija fa-innarusul rubbiki ilayki wa nahnu akhawatuki 
ana sara wa hadhihi asiya bint mazahim . . . wa hadhihi maryam bint fimran wa 
hadhihi kulthum ukht musa bin fimran an ba'athana allah ilayki . . . fa-jalasat 
wahida v an yaminiha wa uhra v an yasariha wa 1-thalitha bayn yadayha wa al-rabda 
min khalfiha fa-wada"at fatima tahira mutahhara. 

Notes to Pages 62-70 157 

83. As quoted in Rubin, “Pre-existence and Light,” 73. 

84. Al-Majlisi, v. 43.1, p. 2: yakhbaruni annaha untha wa annaha al-nasla 
1-tahira 1-maymuna wa anna allah tabaraka wa ta'ala sa-yaj"alu nasll minha . . . wa 
yaj'aluhum khulafa’ahufi ardihi. 

85. See al-Kulayni, Kitdb al-usul min al-kdfi , ed. Sayyid Jawad Mustafawi 
(Tehran: al-Maktabah al-Tmiyya al-Islamiyya, Haydurt Press, n.d.), 277-78. 
See also Ayoub’s discussion of the Light Verse, Redemptive Suffering , 57-58. 

86. Shidte tradition reveals how the ancient patriarchs both prefigure and 
ultimately participate in the holy family. Ayoub includes a discussion of the an- 
cient prophets and explains how each joined in the House of Sorrows. Adam, 
for example, descended directly to Karbala when he was expelled from Paradise. 
There he felt saddened and then tripped, and blood gushed from his foot. He 
asked what sin he had committed, but God explained that he stood on the future 
location of his son Husayn’s martyrdom. In a similar narrative Abraham is rid- 
ing his horse one day and suddenly falls off. He, too, asks God what sin he has 
committed; God replies that he has just crossed the plain of Karbala. Thus both 
prophets not only recognize the ahl al-bayfs authority but also participate in its 
suffering. See Ayoub, Redemptive Suffering, 27-36. 

87. Muhibb al-Dln al-Tabari, Dhakhd'ir al-'uqbah (Beirut, 1973, 20); and 
Murtada al-Husayni Firuzabadi, Fada’il al-khamsa (Beirut, 1393/1973), II, 56-59, 
75-87; as quoted in Sharon, “Ahl al-Bayt,” 169-84. 

88. Saint Hildephonsus of Toledo (607-67), Sermones, PL 96.239-83. 

89. See "Abdallah al-Bahrani, Maqtal al-'awdlim (Tabriz: Dar al-Tibaa, 
n.d.), 29; al-Majlisi, vol. 43, 241—42; both cited in Ayoub, Redemptive Suffering, 

90. See al-Majlisi, v. 43, p. 243; also, as cited in Ayoub, Redemptive Suf- 
fering, 32. Ja'far al-Tustari, Khasd'is al-Husayn wa-Mazdyd al-Mazlum (n.p., n.d., 
lithograph of manuscript, copied 1305/1887), 66. 

Chapter Four. Mothers and Families 

1. Brown, The Body and Society, 153; my emphasis. 

2. An approach similar to that employed in chapter 3. 

3. Cameron, “Virginity as Metaphor.” 

4. Al-Majlisi, vol. 43.2, p. 19; v. 43.3, pp. 28-29; v. 43.3, p. 29. 

5. See Jerome, Against Jovinianus, bk. 1. 

6. Historians have recently noticed the iconic parallels between Mary and 
Jesus as bride/groom and Roman depictions of reigning empress/emperor. See 
Thomas Matthews, The Clash of the Gods: A Reinterpretation of Early Christian Art 
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993). 

158 Notes to Pages 70-73 

7. See Bernard’s Cantica C antic arum, In Laud. V. Mar., and In Assumptione 
Beatae Mariae Virginis in PL 182-83; also see Sancti Bernardi Opera Omnia, 8 
vols., ed. Jean Leclercq, Charles H. Talbot, and Henri-Marie Rochais (Rome, 
1957-78). As Caroline Walker Bynum points out in Jesus as Mother (Berkeley: 
University of California Press, 1982), Bernard and other mystics also identified 
the bride as the individual soul or the community of monks as a whole. 

8. Ambrose, Exp. in Ps. 118 1.16, PL 15.1206-7; discussed in H. Graef, 
Mary: A History of Doctrine and Devotion, vol. 1, From the Beginnings to the Eve of 
the Reformation (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1963), 85-89. 

9. Ambrose, De virginihus, 65: et virgo concepit, virgo peperit bonum 
odorem, Dei Filium. PL 16.282; discussed in Graef, Mary, 85-89. 

10. The student is usually identified as Quodvultdeus, PL 40.661; discussed 
in Graef, Mary, 131-32. Graef also points out that the Greek Oecumenius pro- 
vided the most complete Marian interpretation of Revelation 12. He states that 
the vision “describes the Theotokos,” quoted in Graef, 132. 

11. See Ambrose, Exposito in Evangelium Secundum Lucam, 7.5, PL 15.1700. 

12. See Augustine, Sermones ad Populum, Classis II. de Tempore, 181.1, PL 
38.995; Ambrose, Expositio Evangelium secundum Lucam, 2.2, PL 15.1553. 

13. Augustine, Sermones ad Populum, Classis II. de Tempore, 192.2: Ut quod 
egit uterus Mariae in carne Christi, agat cor vestrum in lege Christi. Quomodo 
autem non ad partum Virginis pertinetis, quando Christi membra estis? Caput 
vestrum peperit Maria, vos Ecclesia. Nam ipsa quoque et mater et virgo est: 
mater visceribus charitatis, virgo integritate fidei et pietatis. Populos parit, sed 
unius membra sunt, cuius ipsa est corpus et conjux, etiam in hoc similitudinem 
gerens illius virginis, quia et in multis mater est unitatis. PL 38.1012; FC, v. 17, 
192.2, 33. 

14. See also Augustine’s “ Sermones ad Populum, Classis II. de Tempore, 
191.3(4): Nec propterea vos steriles deputetis, quia virgines permanetis. Nam 
et ipsa pia integritas carnis, ad fecunditatem pertinet mentis. . . . Sic in mentibus 
vestris et fecunditas exuberet, et virginitas perseveret. PL 38.101 1. 

15. Mary’s obedience also accentuated her status as Eve’s righteous coun- 
terpart. Whereas Eve’s disobedience introduced corruption and death, Mary 
allowed for Christ’s birth and hope of redemption. Irenaeus developed this Eve- 
Mary parallel in his Against the Heresies, 3, 22, 24. 

16. Bouhdiba, Sexuality in Islam, 7-8; see also Murata’s discussion of mas- 
culine and feminine completion in The Tao of Islam; and Umar R. Ehrenfels’s 
“Weibliche elemente in der symbolik des Islam,” in Zeitschrift fur Missionswis- 
senschaft und Religionswissenshaft (Meunster in Westfalen, 1950). 

17. These, of course, are generalized expectations. Degrees of covering 
and modesty ultimately depend on independent cultural systems, local cus- 
tom, and interpretation. For important works on veiling, including social and 

Notes to Pages 73-75 159 

cultural analyses, see Fatima Mernissi, The Veil and the Male Elite: A Feminist In- 
terpretation of Women’s Rights in Islam , trans. Mary Jo Lakeland (Reading, Mass.: 
Addison-Wesley, 1991); Arlene Elowe Macleod, Accommodating Protest: Working 
Women , the New Veiling , and Change in Cairo (N ew York: Columbia University 
Press, 1991); Nilufer Gole, The Forbidden Modern: Civilization and Veiling (Ann 
Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996); and Claudia Knieps, Geschichte der 
Verschleierung der Frau im Islam (Wurzburg: Ergon, 1993). 

18. These expectations reflect traditional gender roles as described in 
hagiographic texts. Important historical works reveal that some social norms 
allowed for various types of gender performance, however. See Everett K. Row- 
son, “Gender Irregularity as Entertainment: Institutionalized Transvestism at 
the Caliphal Court in Medieval Baghdad,” in Gender and Difference in the Middle 
Ages , ed. Sharon Farmer and Carol Braun Pasternack (Minneapolis: University 
of Minnesota Press, 2003); and his “The Effeminates of Early Medina,” Journal 
of the American Oriental Society 111 (1991): 671-93. 

19. Bouhdiba discusses these traditions in Sexuality in Islam , 217-18. 

20. Al-MajlisT, vol. 43.3, p. 24 (I have pluralized the hadith in my quota- 

21. Al-MajlisT, vol. 43.2, p. 17. 

22. Al-Baladhuri, Ansdh al-ashrdf 1.401; al-Dulabi, al-Dhurriyya al-tdhira 
91; al-Kulayni, al-Kdfi : al-usulwa l-furu wa l-rawda , 8.340. Variant sources place 
the marriage contract earlier with the ceremony/consummation after the Battle 
of Badr, see Soufi, “The Image of Fatima,” 33; FI 2 , “Fatima,” 842-43. 

23. See Lammens’s discussion in ET, 85-88. His sometimes overly critical 
approach views the variant hadith regarding Fatima’s age as proof of her insig- 
nificance and unattractiveness; that is, Muhammad had problems marrying off 
his daughter. He claims that Shkite hadith refute this image by listing Fatima’s 
several proposals from other (very prominent) men. 

24. See Soufi, “The Image of Fatima,” 35-36. She quotes hadith from al- 
Baladhuri, Ibn Hanbal, Ibn Qutayba, and al-Dulabi. 

25. Al-Dulabi 94, 95; Ibn Hanbal, Kitdh fada’il al-sahdha , 2.569, 632, 762; 
see discussion and variant sources in Soufi, “The Image of Fatima,” 36; and El 2 , 
“Fatima,” 842-43. 

26. SeeF/ 2 , “Fatima,” 842 M-3. 

27. See explanations of early Islamic marriage in Gertrude H. Stern, Mar- 
riage in Early Islam (London: Royal Asiatic Society, 1939). 

28. Rustam al-Tabari (c. tenth century), Dalai il al-imdma , 1 2 ; Ibn Shahr ashub 
(c. twelfth century), Mandqih Al Ahi Tdlib\ discussed in El 2 , “Fatima,” 846. 

29. See al-Majlisi, vol. 43, pp. 92-145, for variant traditions. According to 
some transmitters, Ali and Fatima were wed during Muhammad’s night journey; 
and other sources measure Fatima’s mahr at one-fifth or one-fourth of the earth. 

160 Notes to Pages IS -11 

Also see Soufi’s discussion of the heavenly marriage in “The Image of Fatima,” 
38-45. Soufi points out that reports of the heavenly marriage also appear in some 
post-fourth/tenth-century Sunni works. 

30. The tuba tree is described by various exegetes commenting on tuba , 
mentioned in Qur’an 13.29: “For those who believe and work righteousness, is 
(every) blessedness (tuba), and a beautiful place of (final) return.” See Soufi, “The 
Image of Fatima,” 40; and El 2 , “Fatima,” 846-47. 

31. See the full description of Fatima’s role on the day of resurrection and 
judgment below. 

32. See El 2 , “Fatima,” 846-47. 

33. See El 2 , “Fatima,” 846-47; Soufi, “The Image of Fatima,” notes other 
practices modeled after "Ali and Fatima’s ceremony. She mentions Muhammad’s 
supplication before the couple as he sprinkled their chests with water. This, she 
notes, is repeated at some modern ceremonies; see esp. 36-37. 

34. Al-Tusi, Amdli ‘ l-shaykh al-tusi, 1.38; al-Kulayni, al-Kdfl , 5.378; and al- 
Qummi, Tafsir al-qummi, 2.336-338; discussed in Soufi, “The Image of Fatima,” 

35. See Haeri, Law of Desire, 38-40. Opponents argue that Muhammad 
married "A’isha when she was only nine years old, and thus only parental ap- 
proval was necessary. 

36. See, for example, al-Mufld, 2.5, 414; or, EF, “Fatima,” 846M-7. 

37. Al-MajlisT, vol. 43, p. 8: nadat udan li-uhaddithuka bi-ma kana wa bi-ma 
huwa ka’in wa bi-ma lam yakun ila yawm al-qiyama hina taqumu al-sa a. 

38. The ah l al-bayt are collectively known as the bayt al-ahzdn, or house 
of sorrows, because of the abandonment, persecution, and poverty they expe- 
rienced. See Ayoub’s discussion in Redemptive Suffering, 23-52. Also see Louis 
Massignon’s Opera Minora, ed. Y. Moubarac (Beirut: Dar al-Ma'arif, 1963), 1.573 
ff., on the importance of Fatima in the bayt al-ahzdn. 

39. Al-MajlisT, vol. 43, p. 25; al-Mufid, chap. 4, 133. 

40. The inheritance of Fadak is an important theological point for Shiites. 
Fatima’s claim to inherit land from her father would set precedent for inherit- 
able position. Abu Bakr, however, claimed that the Prophet had said, “We the 
prophets neither inherit nor give inheritance.” This intimated that the family of 
the Prophet held no privileged status above the faithful companions. See Ayoub, 
Redemptive Suffering, 49-50; Momen, Introduction to Shfi Islam, 20-21; and El 2 , 
“Fadak,” 725-27. 

4 1 . J a"far b . Muhammad b . Q awlawayh al- QummI , Kamil al-ziydrdt, ed . Mirza 
"Abdallah al-Husayn al-Amim al-Tabrizi (Najaf: Mutadawlyyah, 1356/1937), 82; 
as quoted in Ayoub, Redemptive Suffering, 144-45. 

42. For discussions of gender and death rituals, see El-Sayed El-Aswad, 
“Death Rituals in Rural Egyptian Society: A Symbolic Study,” Urban Anthropology 

Notes to Pages 77-79 161 

and Studies of Cultural Systems and World Economic Development 16 (1987): 205-41; 
and the more recent article by Lila Abu-Lughod, “Islam and the Gendered Dis- 
courses of Death,” IJMES 25 (1993): 187-205. 

43. See Nadia Abu-Zahra, “The Comparative Study of Muslim Societies 
and Islamic Rituals,” Arab Historical Review for Ottoman Studies 3-4 (1991): 7-38. 
For examples of female saints who refuse to wail, see Abu-Lughod, “Islam and 
the Gendered Discourses of Death,” 194-95. 

44. See David Pinault’s discussion of contemporary Muharram rituals that 
cast Fatima as the welcoming mother, rewarding those Shiites who mourn the 
death of Husayn, in The Shi ites: Ritual and Popular Piety in a Muslim Community 
(New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992). 

45. The preceding chapters discuss these theological treatises in greater de- 
tail, including the great debate over Mary’s title Theotokos. I argue there that the 
third- and fourth-century eruption of Marian piety and texts relates more to the- 
ology than popular piety. In Mary , Graef provides one of the most concise yet well 
documented surveys of Marian theology in late antiquity and the Middle Ages. 

46. GM 12, MGH SRM 1.2.46: patuitque evidenti ratione, contra iniquam 
et Deo odibilem Arrianam heresim, quae eo tempore pullulabat, haec acta. Ag- 
nitumque est, sanctam Trinitatem in una omnipotentiae aequalitate connexam, 
nullis garrulationibus posse disiungi. Also see Van Dam’s translation, 32. 

47. In another test of faith, a Catholic deacon thrust his hand into boiling 
water to no effect while the Arian hand suffered severe burns (GM 80). 

48. VP XIX, MGH SRM 1.2.286: ad extremum semper virginis intactaeque 
Mariae dignatur utero suscipi, et praepotens inmortalisque Creator mortalis car- 
nis patitur amictu vestiri. See also Van Dam’s translation, 124. 

49. GM 9. Peter Schafer provides a fascinating survey of the furnace story 
in late antique and early Christian texts. He also looks at Jewish apocryphal tales 
that countered Mary’s miraculous deeds along with Jesus’ divine nature. See 
Peter Schafer, Mirror of His Beauty: Feminine Images of God from the Bible to the 
Early Kabbalah (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002), 197-216. 

50. GM 9; MGH SRM 1.2.44: ille Christo domino ac suis legibus inimicus. 

51. GM 9; MGH SRM 1.2.44: quasi super plumas mollissimas. 

52. Cf. Dan. 3.8-30. 

5 3 . GM 9; MGH SRM 1 .2 .44: mulier, quae in basilicam illam, ubi panem de 
mensa accepi, in cathedra resedens. 

54. GM 9; MGH SRM 1.2.44: agnitam ergo infans fidem catholicam, cred- 
idit in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus sancti. 

55. See Isabel Moreira, Dreams , Visions , and Spiritual Authority in Merovin- 
gian Gaul (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2000), 100-101. 

56. Moreira, Dreams , 100-103; also, for a history of early medieval anti- 
Semitism, see Solomon Katz, The Jews in the Visigothic and Frankish Kingdoms 

162 Notes to Pages 79-80 

of Spain and Gaul (Cambridge, Mass.: Mediaeval Academy of America, 1937); 
and Ora Limor and Guy G. Stroumsa, eds., Contra ludaeos: Ancient and Medieval 
Polemics between Christians and Jews (Tubingen: J. C. B. Mohr [Paul Siebeck], 

57. See Paul Fouracre and Richard A. Gerberding’s concise description of 
the Merovingian political milieu and family lineages in Late Merovingian France. 

58. Janet T. Nelson discusses the importance of the royal household and 
domestic power and warns against relying on the traditional correlation between 
the public, political sphere with masculine space and the private, familial sphere 
with feminine space. See her “Queens as Jezebels,” 31-77. She states: “A king 
might win or confirm his power on the battlefield, but he exercised it in the 
hall, and this we have seen to be the prime area of the queen’s activity. Here in 
the voyAfamilia the distribution of food, clothing, charity, the nurturing of the 
iuvenes , the maintenance of friendly relations between the princeps, the respectful 
reception of bishops and foreign visitors: all fell to the queen’s responsibility. . . . 
All this explains why in the case of a queen, domestic power could mean political 
power,” 74-75. See also W. Schlesinger, Beitrdge zur deutschen Verfassungsge- 
schichte des Mittelalters (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1963). 

59. See, among others, Ian Wood’s discussion in The Merovingian King- 
doms , esp. chap. 8. 

60. The Christianity that flourished in Merovingian Gaul revealed a unique 
blending of Gallo-Roman, Frankish, and Eastern piety. Ascetic traditions from 
Syria and Egypt entered Gaul through, in particular, John Cassian’s (d. 435) re- 
ports of Eastern eremitism. (Major monastic centers influenced by Eastern ideals 
included the monasteries at Lerins, Arles, Tours, and Poitiers.) In his Confer- 
ences , Cassian magnified the self-abnegation and worldly rejection of holy men 
and women while tempering harsh asceticism with a via media. For example, he 
appointed the anchorite’s life as an “ideal,” but he favored the coenobitic (com- 
munal) life wherein monasticism could flourish. See John Cassian, Conlationes , 
CSEL 13, esp. bk. XIX. See also the discussion of Cassion’s influence on Western 
spirituality in Markus, The End of Ancient Christianity , 181 ff. This ascetic model 
coupled with notions of Roman aristocracy and social order, along with a new 
Frankish ruling elite, resulted in a distinctive model of sanctity in Gaul. 

61. McNamara discusses the proselytization efforts of women in Gaul in 
“Living Sermons: Consecrated Women and the Conversion of Gaul,” in Nichols 
and Shank, eds., Medieval Religious Women , vol. 2, Peaceweavers , 19-37. Also, 
Schulenburg discusses the role of women in conversion throughout western Eu- 
rope, including Gaul, Lombardy, Visigothic Spain, and Anglo-Saxon England, 
in Forgetful of Their Sex , esp. chap. 4, “Marriage and Domestic Proselytization,” 

62 . Gregory of T ours, LH II. 3 0-3 1 . 

Notes to Pages 80-83 163 

63 . On the importance of Martin of Tours in the Christianization of Gaul, 
see Van Dam, Leadership and Community , 119-40. Also, Wallace-Hadrill pro- 
vides an important description of Clovis’s conversion in The Frankish Church , 

64. See Clothild’s vita, MGH SRM 2.341-48; also, McNamara, Sainted 
Women of the Dark Ages, 38-50. 

65. The Franks, unique among the Germanic invaders, converted to “or- 
thodox” Christianity. 

66. Vita Genovefae, AS, Jan. 3, 137-53; or see the later edition in MGH SRM 
3.204-38; see also trans. in McNamara, Sainted Women of the Dark Ages, 17-37. 

67. Vita Chrothildis 7, MGH SRM 2.344; or McNamara, Sainted Women of the 
Dark Ages, 44M-5 : veniente rege pagano ad baptismum, precederet sanctus Remi- 
gius vice Christi Iesu, et subsequeretur sancta regina Chrothildis vice ecclesie 
Deum interpellantis. 

68. Vita Chrothildis 11, MGH SRM 2.346; or McNamara, Sainted Women 
of the Dark Ages, 47: corda gentis pagane et ferocissime . . . blanditiis emollivit 
et sanctis exortationibus et orationibus sedulis per beatum Remigium ad Deum 

69. Vita Chrothildis 14, MGH SRM 2.347; or McNamara, Sainted Women 
of the Dark Ages, 49: His et aliis sanctis operibus referta sancta Chrothildis olim 
regina, tunc pauperum et servorum Dei famula, despiciens mundum et corde 
diligens Deum, consenuit in senectute bona, a Christo receptura premia sine 
fine mansura. 

70. Al-Majlisi, v. 43.3, pp. 2T-25: fatima bid'a minnl wa hiya nur v ayni wa 
thamara fu’adi yasu’unl ma sa’aha wa yasummi ma sarraha . . . fa-ahsin ilayha ba'di 
wa amma al-hasan wa al-husayn fa-huma ibnaya wa rihanatayya wa huma sayyida 
shabab ahl al-janna fa la-yakrama alayka ka-sarnuka wa basaruka. 

71. See Rubin, “Pre-existence and Light,” 99. 

72. Al-Majlisi, v. 43.3, pp. 20-21: la-yaghdabu li-ghadabiki wa yarda li- 

73. Al-Majlisi, v. 43.3, pp. 25-26. 

74. Al-Majlisi, v. 43.2, p. 18: summiyat fatima fi 1-ard li-annaha fatimat 
shkataha min al-nar. 

75. Al-Mufid, chap. 4; 126. 

76. Al-Majlisi, vol. 43.3, p. 29. 

77. These food replication miracles offer a striking comparison with the 
Mary and Martha dichotomy that evolves in the Christian tradition (Luke 
10.38-42). In Christian exegesis Mary chooses to sit by Jesus’ feet for instruc- 
tion (the contemplative life) while Martha labors in the kitchen (the active life). 
In Shkite exegesis, however, Fatima performs the obligatory prayers and rituals 
while Allah provides for all the mundane chores. 

164 Notes to Pages 83-87 

78. Al-Majlisi, v. 43.3, p. 29. 

79. See Jane Smith and Yvonne Haddad, “Eve: Islamic Image of Woman,” 
in Women and Islam , ed. AzTzah al-Hibri (New York: Pergamon Press, 1982), 
136. Note the comparison of Adam and Eve’s culpability: in Qur’an 2.35, 7.19, 
both are allotted paradise and warned against the tree; 2.36, 7.20, Iblis’s (Satan’s) 
temptation of both; 2.121, both become aware of their nakedness; and 2.36, 
20.123, 7.24, Allah expels them from the Garden. 

80. See al-Kisd'i , The Tales of the Prophets , trans. W. M. Thackston Jr. (Bos- 
ton: Twayne, 1978), 31. 

81. See Smith and Haddad, Women and Islam, 135-37. 

82. See Barbara Freyer Stowasser’s discussion of Hawwa’ in Women in the 
Qur'an, Traditions, and Interpretation (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 

83. See Stowasser’s discussion of al-Tabari, Women in the Qur'an, Tradi- 
tions, and Interpretation, 30. 

84. According to one hadith, Muhammad himself acknowledges the poten- 
tial danger of women as he compares the powers of one’s personal shaytdn and 
one’s wives: “My Satan was an unbeliever but God helped me against him and 
He converted to Islam; my wives were a help for me. Adam’s Satan was an infidel 
and Adam’s wife was an aid in his sin.” Quoted from al-Munawi, al-Suyuti, and 
al-Daylaml in Kister, “Legends in tafsir and hadith Literature,” 93. In al-Kisa’i’s 
Tales of the Prophets, 51, Satan even receives “woman” as his special, vulnerable 

85. See Ayoub, Redemptive Suffering, 62. 

86. Al-Majlisi, v. 11, p. 164. 

87. Al-Majlisi, v. 11, p. 165: wa tasallata "ala hawwa’ li-nazarihailafatima bi 
v ayn al-hasad hatta akalat min al-shajara ka-ma akala adam fa-akhrajahuma allah, 
v azza wa jalla, v an jannatihi, wa ahbatahuma v an jawarihi ilal-ard. 

88. Umm al-Kitdb, quoted by Louis Massignon, “L’hyperdulie de Fatima, ses 
Origines Historiques et Dogmatiques,” in La Muhahala de Medine et I'hyperdulie 
de Fatima (Paris: Librairie Orientale et Americaine, 1955), 28. 

89. Al-Kisa’i, Tales of the Prophets, 41M-2. 

90. See 1 Kings 21-22. 

91. On Brunhild’s animosity toward Columbanus, see the Vita Columhani, 
Liber I, MGH SRM 4.65-112. Also see Fredegar’s Chronicle for his descriptions 
of Brunhild’s murderous plots, esp. cap. 32. The translation is available in J. M. 
Wallace-Hadrill, The Fourth Book of the Chronicle of Fredegar, with Its Continu- 
ations (London: Nelson 1960). Nelson also provides an important analysis of 
Brunhild’s political ventures in “Queens as Jezebels. ” 

92. Fouracre and Gerberding provide a good introduction to and transla- 
tion of Balthild’s vita-, see Late Merovingian France, 97-132. 

Notes to Pages 87-89 165 

93. See Vita Wilfridi , MGH SRM 6.193-263. See also Nelson, “Queens as 
Jezebels,” 65-66. 

94. Vita S. Balthildis , 3. 

95. Fz'ta S’. Balthildis , 4, MGH SRM 2.486: ut matrem, sacerdotibus ut fil- 
iam, iuvenibus sive adolescentibus ut piam nutricem. 

96. Vita S. Balthildis , 4, MGH SRM 2.486: ministrans ipsa sacerdotibus et 
pauperibus, pascebat egenos et induebat vestibus nudos . . . dirigebat quoque per 
ipsum ad coenobia virorum ac sacrarum virginum auri vel argenti non modica 

97. Many ShEite hagiographers construct an antithesis to Fatima’s virtue 
as well, both in Hawwa’ (or Eve) and "A’isha, Muhammad’s beloved wife. 

98. See the Protevangelium of James and the Odes of Solomon, for example. 
These texts are discussed in greater detail in chap. 3. 

99. See Daniel Boyarin’s eloquent discussion of this fleshly hierarchy in 
“On the History of the Early Phallus,” in Gender and Difference in the Middle Ages, 
Medieval Cultures 32, ed. Sharon Farmer and Carol Braun Pasternack (Minne- 
apolis: University of Minneapolis Press, 2003), 7-8. 

100. See de Nie’s article, “Consciousness Fecund through God,” 116-32, 
for an important analysis of Perpetua, Felicitas, and Eugenia. 

101. There are many works available on transvestitism and transgendering 
in the early church. One article describes the Greco-Roman philosophical milieu 
in which this model evolved. See Elizabeth Castelli’s “‘I will make Mary male’: 
Pieties of the Body and Gender Transformation of Christian Women in Late 
Antiquity,” in Body Guards: The Cultural Politics of Gender Ambiguity , ed. Julia 
Epstein and Kristina Straub (New York: Routledge, 1991), 29-49. 

102. Gregory of Tours, GM 9; MGH SRM 1.2.45: Nec enim potest fieri, 
ut deficiat triticum in eius monasterium, quae frugem vitae ex utero pereunti 
intulit mundo. 

103. See, for example, Isabelle Real’s discussion in Vies de saints, vie de fa- 
mille: Representation et systeme de la par ente dans le Royaume merovingien (481-751) 
d'apres les sources h agio graph iques (Brussels: Brepols, 2001). 

104. For detailed discussion of property rites and toll exemptions, see Ian 
Wood, The Merovingian Kingdoms, 450-751 (New York: Longman, 1994), esp. 
chaps. 11, 12; also see Jo Ann McNamara and Suzanne Wemple, “The Power 
of Women through the Family in Medieval Europe, 500-1100,” in Women and 
Power in the Middle Ages, ed. Mary Erler and Maryanne Kowaleski (Athens: Uni- 
versity of Georgia Press, 1983), 83-101; also see Janet L. Nelson’s “The Wary 
Widow” and Paul Fouracre’s “Eternal Light and Earthly Needs: Practical Aspects 
of the Development of Frankish Immunities,” in Property and Power in the Early 
Middle Ages, ed. Wendy Davies and Paul Fouracre (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni- 
versity Press, 1995). In The Frankish Church, Wallace-Hadrill discusses various 

166 Notes to Pages 89-90 

motivations for Merovingian investment in monastic houses. He includes the 
donors’ desire for perpetual intercession provided by the “professional” monks 
and nuns; the localization of martyrs’ and bishops’ relics supervised by monastic 
houses; and the gaining of salvation through charitable gifts to monastic poverty 

105. In Saints' Lives and the Rhetoric of Gender, Kitchens argues that there are 
more continuities between male and female hagiography in the early Merovin- 
gian period than differences. He contends that charity, for example, is a con- 
stant virtue from the biblical period through the early Medieval era; and he does 
not see charity as a particularly female attribute. I disagree, however, as argued 

106. See, for example, Athanasius, Life of Antony, 12. Coon also discusses 
the hagiographer Gerontius’s subtle chastisement of Melania the Younger for 
flaunting her wealth around the Egyptian desert. According to the vita, Melania 
attempts to give some of the anchorites gold coins which they reject with disdain 
(set Sacred Fictions, 116-17). 

107. See (among others) Matt. 5.3, 6.19; Mark 10.23-6; Matt. 21.12; Mark 

108. See Dominic Janes’s discussion of late antique poverty and wealth in 
God and Gold in Late Antiquity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998). 
She explains the ambiguities between textual exaltations of poverty and visual 
displays of wealth and grandeur in early churches and images. Ambrose and Au- 
gustine, for example, were careful to explain that the desire for wealth, not wealth 
itself, led to corruption and sin; see 154-55. 

109. Vita Melaniae, 21 (SC 90), as quoted in Janes, God and Gold, 137. 

110. Fortunatus, Vita Radegundis 13, MGH SRM 2.369: Mox indumentum 
nobile, quo celeberrima die solebat, pompa comitante, regina procedere, exuta 
ponit in altare et blattis, gemmis, ornamentis mensam divinae gloriae tot donis 
onerat per honorem. Cingulum auri ponderatum ffactum dat opus in pauperum. 

111. F ortunatus, Vita Radegundis 1 7 , MGH SRM 2.370. 

112. See Fuke 10.40. In medieval exegesis Martha symbolizes the active life 
of charity, as opposed to the contemplative life of her sister Mary. Fortunatus 
calls Radegund the “new Martha” in Vita Radegundis 7. 

113. The history of Ave Maria is, of course, complicated. The basic form of 
the prayer was established from the twelfth through the sixteenth centuries. The 
prayer borrowed from the biblical texts of Fuke 1.28 and 1.42, which recounted 
Gabriel’s and Elizabeth’s greetings to Mary. Most of the prayer, however, is pres- 
ent in the Western church’s liturgy by the seventh century. Baudonivia’s rendi- 
tion of Mammezo’s prayer resonates strongly with the structure of the Ave Maria: 
“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Ford is with you. Blessed are thou among women; 
blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us 

Notes to Pages 91-94 167 

sinners now and at the hour of our death.” See Anne Winston-Allen’s history of 
the rosary in Stories of the Rose : The Making of the Rosary in the Middle Ages (Uni- 
versity Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997). 

114. Baudonivia, Vita Radegundis 11, MGH SRM 2.385; or McNamara, 
Sainted Women of the Dark Ages , 94: Domina Radegundis, credo, te virtute Dei 
esse plenam, cuius voluntatem magis fecisti, quam hominum; domina bona, pi- 
eta te plena, miserere mei, subveni infelice, ora pro me, ut mihi reddatur oculus, 
quia pro gravi crutiatu et dolore affligitur anima mea. 

115. Baudonivia, Vita Radegundis 2 3 . Gregory of T ours made this comment 
at Radegund’s funeral; as he gazed upon Radegund he smelled lilies and roses 
that reminded him of the Holy Mother. 

116. Vita Rusticulae 22, MGH SRM 4.348: omnes dominam, omnes piam 
matrem vocarent. 

117. Ibn Sa v d, Tahaqdt al-kuhrd (Bierut: Dar Sadir, 1957-58), 3.170; 8.64,66. 
Discussed in Spellberg, Politics , Gender , and the Islamic Past , 32-37. 

118. Ibn Sa v d, Tahaqdt al-kuhrd , 8.65,67; al-Tirmidhi, Sahih al-Tirmidhi , 
5.364-66; as discussed in Spellberg, Politics , Gender , and the Islamic Past , 33-34. 

119. Spellberg cites traditions that explain that the Prophet’s wives did not 
eat meat; therefore they were slender (!). See Politics , Gender , and the Islamic Past , 

120. Spellberg also cites, among others, Ibn Hisham’s exegetical works that 
correlate the hadith al-ifk with the Qur’anic revelations; see Kitdh sirat rasul alldh , 
vol. 1, pt. 2: 736; Politics , Gender , and the Islamic Past, 73-74. 

121. The implications of this repudiation are far reaching in terms of 
Shi'ite historiography. As Etan Kohlberg points out, “It involves a rejection of 
the natural assumption that the earliest followers of true faith are also the best 
and the most virtuous of its practitioners; in Sunni Islam this principle is en- 
shrined in the hadith, ‘The most excellent people are my generation, then those 
following them, then those [who follow those] following them.’” Kohlberg goes 
on to explain that Shiite authors devoted their attention more to rijdl works 
concerning the Imams’ followers than the biographers of the Companions. See 
“Some Imam! ShTi Views on the SAHABA,” Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam 
5 (1984): 149-50. 

122. As Kohlberg points out, the tradition can be dated to traditionist All 
b. Mujahid al-Razi (d. 182/798) in his Mandqih amir al-mVminin wa mathdlib al- 
mundfqin. See Kohlberg’s recension of the text in “Some Imarm Shfi Views on 
the SAHABA,” 152-56. 

123. This hadith resonates with the miracle story of Numbers 22 wherein 
Balaam’s donkey recognizes God’s angel and diverts from its path. 

124. See Sahih Bukhari , v. 7, 64.274. 

125. See al-Majlisi, v. 43.3, pp. 28-29. 

168 Notes to Pages 95-97 

126. Caesarius, Rule for Nuns, 63, p. 191. 

127. One of the most noted queens who escapes an unwanted marriage is 
Radegund; see Vita Radegundis 12. Also, Caesarius of Arles describes how vir- 
gins “unite to holy Mary” in the Mystical Body (i.e., the church) as the brides 
of Christ; see Sermo VI, p. 36. Also, McCarthy discusses this passage, along 
with the similarities with Augustine’s De sancta virginitate, xix-xx, 252-54; xiv, 
290-291; see McCarthy, The Rule for Nuns, 59. 

128. See Donald Hochstetler, A Conflict of Traditions: Women in Religion 
in the Early Middle Ages, 500-840 (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 
1992). Hochstetler discusses the economic freedom of many abbesses and the 
question of community property on 16-24. 

129. McNamara mentions this possibility in The Ordeal of Community , 
12-13. Also, the rules of both Donatus and Caesarius remain clear about “test- 
ing” the young initiates for purity of purpose; Donatus, Rule 6; Caesarius, Rule 
for Nuns, 4. 

130. See particularly Jane Tibbetts Schulenburg’s discussion of family au- 
thority and royal patronage in Forgetful of Their Sex. 

131. Donastus of Besangon, for example, notes in his Rule that no nun 
should act out of loyalty to another because of consanguinity. See McNamara 
and Halborg’s translation in The Ordeal of Community, 74, p. 71. Also see Mc- 
Namara’s introduction, 12-13, which briefly summarizes some of the motiva- 
tions for entering a convent in the early medieval period. Hochstetler provides 
a fine discussion of the “ideal” and actual inequalities in religious communities 
in A Conflict of Traditions, 119-26. Finally, note that Caesarius very clearly states 
that no nun, not even the abbess, should be permitted to have a personal maid. 

132. Caesarius, Rule for Nuns, 2 5 . 

133. Ibid., 40. 

134. See Caesarius, Rule for Nuns, 2 , 59; also note Caesarius’s comments in 
Vereor as discussed by McCarthy, The Rule for Nuns, 54: “She who desires to pre- 
serve religion in an immaculate heart and a pure body, ought never, or certainly 
only for great and unavoidable necessity, go out in public; familiar friendship 
with men, as much as possible should be rare.” See Vereor 136-37. 

135. See Schulenburg, Forgetful of Their Sex, 1 3 9-5 5 . 

136. MGH Concilia 1.12-13, p. 218. See Hochstetler’s discussion of such 
church councils, 65-80. 

137. MGH Concilia 1.17-18, 63; as quoted in Hochstetler, A Conflict of Tra- 
ditions, 79-80. 

138. There has been some debate over whether before the Council of Or- 
leans deaconesses were allowed to participate in consecrating the Eucharist. If 
so, the delineation of a “proper” consecrated life farther alienated women from 
roles of leadership. See, for example, Suzanne Wemple, Women in Frankish Society 

Notes to Pages 97-99 169 

(Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 140); Hochstetler, A Conflict of 
Traditions , 76 ff. 

139. See Hochstetler, A Conflict of Traditions, 1 6-1 9; Jane Tibbetts Schulen- 
burg has done the most expansive studies on the topic of the decline of women’s 
monasticism in the late Merovingian and Carolingian periods. See “Strict Active 
Enclosure and Its Effects on the Female Monastic Experience, ca. 500-1100,” 
in Nichols and Thomas, eds., Distant Echoes , 51-86; and “Women’s Monastic 
Communities, 500-1100: Patterns of Expansion and Decline,” Signs: Journal of 
Women in Culture and Society 14.2 (1989): 261-92. 

140. As already noted, there is no monastic tradition in Islam as there is 
in Christianity, so it is impossible to identify traditions of abbesses as mothers 
and familial rhetoric in ascetic communities to illustrate the power of domes- 
tic rhetoric. It is possible, however, to recognize some of the saint cults that 
arise in Shfite circles throughout the Middle Ages focusing on the sons and 
daughters (i.e., the extended families) of the Imams. In one of these cubic tradi- 
tions in Egypt, for example, Sayyida Naflsah bint al-Hasan is adored. In popular 
traditions, she is approached as “mother”; she is, in effect, imitating Fatima. 
See Devin J. Stewart, “Popular Shidsm in Medieval Egypt: Vestiges of Islamic 
Sectarian Polemics in Egyptian Arabic,” Studia Islamica 84.2 (1996): 35-66; 
Yusuf Ragib, “Al- Sayyida Naflsa, sa legende, son cube et son cimetiere,” Studia 
Islamica 44 (1976): 61-86; and, for a comparative view with the Sufis, Valerie J. 
Hofftnan-Ladd, “Devotion to the Prophet and His Family in Egyptian Sufism,” 
IJMES 24 (1992): 615-37. 

141. For discussions of Islamic scholars and their leadership in medieval 
communities, see Roy Mottahedeh, Loyalty and Leadership in an Early Islamic So- 
ciety (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980); and Berkey, The Transmission 
of Knowledge in Medieval Cairo. 

142. For an important discussion of the scholars’ leadership of the Shidte 
community, see Momen’s An Introduction to Shi i Islam , esp. 184—207. 

Chapter Five. Sacred Art and Architecture 

1. See Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space, trans. Donald Nicholson- 
Smith (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991), for a theoretical discussion of spatial practice. 

2. See Jas Eisner, Imperial Rome an Christian Triumph: The Art of the 
Roman Empire, ad 100-450 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998). Eisner bril- 
liantly discusses visual culture as a display of power and authority as he traces the 
changes from Roman to Christian material culture. 

3. The cornerstone of Judeo- Christian monotheism, of course, resides in 
the Ten Commandments, Exod. 20.1-17. The Qur’an 17.39 relates a similar set 

170 Notes to Pages 99-102 

of ethical imperatives, including the command to “take not, with Allah, another 
object of worship.” 

4. Matthews’s work, The Clash of Gods , provides an important review of 
material culture and its function in late antiquity and the early Middle Ages. Ac- 
cording to Matthews, for example, material culture was more than just a visual 
experience; it included sight, sound, and smells that overwhelmed the worshiper. 

5. Many scholars (e.g., Eisner) have explained that the Jewish prohibitions 
against material displays in sacred space were indeed ideals. The synagogue at 
Dura Europas is a good example. 

6. Al-Majlisi, v. 43.2, page 11. 

7. See, for example, al-Kulaynl’s discussion of Fatima as nur in Kitdb al- 
usul min al-kdfi. 

8. See Rizvi, “Gendered Patronage,” 123-53. 

9. The profound debate over material representation and figural im- 
ages emerged in Christianity during the fifth and sixth centuries well before 
the iconoclast controversy in the Byzantine East. Popular opinion among the 
priests, bishops, and popes finally agreed that the church should employ images 
as didactic tools. See, for example, Pope Gregory the Great’s Letter to Bishop 
Serenus of Marseille. Caecilia Davis-Weyer provides an excellent review of argu- 
ments for and against the use of images in worship (both public and private); 
see Early Medieval Art , 300-1150: Sources and Documents (Atlantic Highlands, 
N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1971). Gregory of Tours, for example, believed that pictures 
and ornaments made admirable instruments for educating the “rustics” ( rustici ) 
of Gaul. Gregory boasts of the images used in Saint Martin’s martyrium in HF 
10.3 1; 7.22. Also see Cynthia Hahn, “Seeing and Believing: The Construction of 
Sanctity in Early-Medieval Saints’ Shrines,” Speculum 72.4 (1997): 1095; Brown, 
Society and the Holy , 222-50. And in anti-Jewish polemic, Christian theologians 
farther argued that God sanctioned the use of some images; indeed, he com- 
manded Moses to mount cherubim on the Ark of the Covenant and Ezekiel to 
fill the Temple with figural effigies. See Charles Barber, “The Truth in Painting: 
Iconoclasm and Identity in Early-Medieval Art,” Speculum 72.4 (1997): 1026-27. 
Barber discusses primarily Leontios of Neapolis, Against the Jews. For other 
texts, see Joan Branham, “Sacred Space under Erasure in Ancient Synagogues 
and Early Churches,” Art Bulletin 74 (1992): 375-94. 

10. In The Formation of Islamic Art (New Haven: Yale University Press, 
1987), Oleg Grabar stresses that while this might be the rule of Islamic artistic 
display, there are certainly exceptions. He points out that different geographic 
locales were more permissive than others in allowing figural displays throughout 
history; and art and architecture intended for personal piety instead of public use 
often acceded to animals and sometimes people; see 72-73, 89. Also, Muham- 
mad Issa argues as a Muslim that prohibitions against pictorial display served an 

Notes to Pages 102-103 171 

historical purpose only. He contends that Muhammad’s injunctions served the 
earliest community to strengthen their nascent faith, but that need no longer 
exists. See his Painting in Islam : Between Prohibition and Aversion (Istanbul: Waqf 
for Research on Islamic History, Art, and Culture, 1996). See also Dominique 
Clevenot, Splendors of Islam: Architecture , Decoration and Design (New York: St. 
Martin’s Press, 2000), esp. 126-33. 

1 1 . Robert Hillenbrand provides an important review of innovative styles 
of Umayyad and Abbasid art forms; see Islamic Art and Architecture (London: 
Thames and Hudson, 1999). 

12. I rely here on Grabar’s foundational work, The Formation of Islamic Art. 
Also see Terry Allen, “Aniconism and Figural Representation in Islamic Art,” in 
Five Essays on Islamic Art (Manchester, Mich.: Solipsist Press, 1988). 

13. See Leslie Brubaker’s important study, “Icons before Iconoclasm?” in 
Morfologie sociali culturali in Europa fra tarda antichitd e alto Medioevo (Spoleto: 
Centro italiano di studi sull’alto Medioevo, 1998). 

14. These hadith are both collected and quoted in Grabar, The Formation 
of Islamic Art, 82. 

15. See Grabar, The Formation of Islamic Art, 81-83. This criticism is based 
on the Qur’anic verse 59.24. Also see Brown’s “Dark Age Crisis” in Society and the 
Holy, 251-301. 

16. See the important works on goddess imagery, including Ludy Goodi- 
son and Christine Morris, eds., Ancient Goddess: The Myths and the Evidence (Mad- 
ison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1998); Merope Pavlides, “The Cult of Mary 
Compared with Ancient Mother Goddesses,” in Gender, Culture , and the Arts: 
Women, the Arts and Society, ed. Ronald Dotterer and Susan Bowers (Selinsgrove, 
Pa.: Susquehanna University Press, 1993). Also, the works of Michael Carroll, 
psychohistorian, allude to ancient goddess worship as a prototype for Marian 
adoration; see, for example, The Cult of the Virgin Mary: Psychological Origins 
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986). 

17. See Christo Kovachevski’s discussion of the ancient prototypes of 
Marian images in The Madonna in Western Painting (London: Cromwell Edi- 
tions, 1991), 16-17; and Eisner, Imperial Rome and Christian Triumph, 220-28. 

18. The Nestorians and other “heretical” groups rejected the images of 
Mary breast-feeding as well as any popular cult devoted to her milk. The Nesto- 
rians found it nothing less than disgusting to suggest that God actually fed at a 
woman’s breast. 

19. John Crook discusses the Virgin’s milk in The Architectural Setting of 
the Cult of the Saints in the Early Christian West, c. 300-1200 (New York: Oxford 
University Press, 2000), 7. It is ironic that this cult only gained some momen- 
tum in the twelfth century and then finally just before the Reformation. Eras- 
mus condemned this popular adoration most virulently in many of his works, 

172 Notes to Pages 105-109 

including Ten Colloquies , English translation by Craig Thompson (New York: 
Macmillan, 1986). 

20. Indeed, the T-shape model only triumphed among other variants dur- 
ing the eighth century. Richard Krautheimer, in “Carolingian Revival of Early 
Christian Architecture,” in Studies in Early Christian , Medieval, and Renaissance 
Art (New York: New York University Press, 1969), 203-6, argues that Saint 
Denis was the first construction to follow the basic T-model since the fifth 
century. See also Krautheimer’s article in the same volume, “The Beginning of 
Early Christian Architecture,” 1-20. 

2 1 . Eric Fletcher presents the basic argument among art historians regard- 
ing the categories “Late Roman” and “Merovingian or Early Medieval” in “The 
Influence of Merovingian Gaul on Northumbria in the Seventh Century,” Me- 
dieval Archaeology 24 (1980): 69-86. This important point, however, is beyond 
the scope of my argument; I am looking primarily at the evolution of Marian 
imagery, not the distinctive schools of art. Fletcher also, quite rightly, points out 
the problems associated with retrieving data on Merovingian architecture and 
art forms because of later Romanesque and Gothic additions. 

22. Liber Pontificalis, 46; trans. Raymond Davis in The Book of Pontiffs: The 
Ancient Biographies of the First Ninety Roman Bishops to ad 7 10 (Liverpool: Liver- 
pool University Press, 1989). 

23. See Margaret R. Miles, “Santa Maria Maggiore’s Fifth-Century Mo- 
saics: Triumphal Christianity and the Jews,” Harvard Theological Review 86.2 
(1993): 155-75. Miles emphasizes the mosaics’ anti-Semitic message. 

24. See Andre Grabar and Carl Nordenfalk, “Early Medieval Painting, 
from the Fourth to the Eleventh Century,” in The Great Centuries of Painting 
(New York: Skira, 1957). Also see Henry N. Claman’s description of Santa 
Maria Maggiore ‘m Jewish Images in the Christian Church: Art as the Mirror of the 
Jewish -Christian Conflict, 200-1 2 SO C.E. (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 
2000), esp. 86-92; and John Lowden, Early Christian and Byzantine Art (London: 
Phaidon Press, 1997), 50-55. 

25. See Suzanne Spain, “‘The Promised Blessing’: The Iconography of the 
Mosaics of S. Maria Maggiore,” Art Bulletin 61 (1979): 518-40. 

26. See, for example, William Loerke’s discussion in “‘Real Presence’ in 
Early Christian Art,” in Monasticism and the Arts, ed. Timothy Verdon (Syracuse: 
Syracuse University Press, 1984), 29-51. Loerke explains that pictorial cycles 
were intended not just to reference written texts but also to cause the observer to 
“emotionally inhabit them” (40-41). 

27. Gen. 14.17-24. 

28. Spain, “The Promised Blessing,” 534-35. 

29. De S. Eustadiola, Ahhatissa Bituricensi in Gallia, AS, June 8, 132. 

3 0 . Vita Chrothildis reginae francorum, 11-12. 

Notes to Pages 109-111 173 

3 1 . Vita Radegundis , 2.7. 

3 2 . Vita Rusticulae , 2 5 . 

33. Ibid. 

34. Ibid., 28. 

35. VitaS. Glodesindae , 18. 

36. Fifth Council of Carthage, CC , 149.204. Crook discusses this and other 
relevant councils in The Architectural Setting of the Cult of the Saints , 13. Crook 
points out that although many areas agreed with this tradition, Merovingian 
Francia was slow to place such emphasis on the incorporation of relics. For one 
reason, other churches encouraged the deposition of entire bodies in the altar; 
Merovingian Gaul, on the whole, had fewer “intact” saints and relied more on 
contact relics; see 13-16. 

37. Crook discusses Mary’s tomb at Gethsemane in The Architectural Setting 
of the Cult of the Saints , 257. Also see B. Bagatti, M. Piccirillo, and A. Prodomo, 
New Discoveries at the Tomb of Virgin Mary in Gethsemane , Studium Biblicum Fran- 
ciscanum, Collectio Minor, 17 (Jerusalem: Franciscan Printing Press, 1975). 

38. Hahn describes a similar structure at Saint Theda’s tomb in Seleucia. 
According to her, access to Theda’s grotto was allowed through two holes in the 
ground. “Now the faithful could create relic-like mementos by lowering objects 
on string into the grotto or perhaps also peer or speak prayers into her residence 
chamber.” See “Seeing and Believing” (1087). 

39. Crook, The Architectural Setting of the Cult of the Saints , 63, discusses 
Gregory of Tours’s description of a petitioner speaking into the tombs. See GC 
36. Crook also compares the shaft construction to Roman libation holes that al- 
lowed offerings to be passed down to Roman coffins (63 ffi). 

40. GM 8. 

41. See Hahn’s argument for the increasing clerical control of sacred space 
in “Seeing and Believing.” She also points out that the “glittering spectacles” 
were intended to attract not only the petitioner’s attention but also the saint 
himself/herself. Einhard, for example, constructs a spectacular shrine to “lure” 
two prominent saints, but they decline and go elsewhere (1083). 

42. See Crook, The Architectural Setting of the Cult of the Saints , 69-74. 

43. See Translatio S. Germani Vetustissima , MGH SRM 7.423-24. Werner 
Jacobsen discusses this miraculous translation in “Saints’ Tombs in Frankish 
Church Architecture,” Speculum 74.4 (1997): 1132-33. 

44. Vita Antiquior , De S. Glodesinde Virgine , AS, July 25, 206: in eodem 
monasterio in ecclesia seniori post altare, quod constructum est atque sacratum 
in laude et honore sanctae Dei Genitricis Mariae, ac beati Petri principis Apos- 
tolorum. See also McNamara, Sainted Women of the Dark Ages, 148. 

45. Glodesind’s hagiographer claimed that she had been Bishop Arnulf’s 
wife, a very important Carolingian saintly figure; her spiritual prowess expressed 

174 Notes to Page 112 

from a high altar lent power to the blossoming Arnulfing line and the blossom- 
ing Carolingian claims to rule. McNamara argues that the anonymous author of 
the vita wrote his redaction in the ninth century, but he relied on a version that 
circulated much earlier. The later biographer emphasized Glodesind’s connec- 
tion to Arnulf; this supposition explains the late advent of her popular cult. See 
McNamara, Sainted Women of the Dark Ages, 137. Also, this trend in corpse shift- 
ing reveals how far the ninth century stands from the earlier period: Emperor 
Theodosius, for example, issued a fifth-century decree regulating the movement, 
dismemberment, and profit of the relic trade. See Codex Theodosiani , 9.17, “De 
Supulchri Violati,” in Theodosian Lihri XVI , 2 vols., ed. T. Mommsen and P. M. 
Meyer (Berlin, 1905). Crook, The Architectural Setting of the Cult of the Saints , 
discusses Theodosius and Gregory the Great, 69-74. He points out that Gregory 
had great reservations about dividing and moving holy relics and encouraged in- 
stead the use of contact relics. Gregory, for example, refused to send the Byzan- 
tine empress Constantina a relic of Saint Paul. Gregory informed the empress 
that contact relics were just as sublime, and he sent filings from Saint Paul’s chains 
of captivity. As Crook also points out, Gregory’s motivations may have been more 
political than theological. 

46. Robert Irwin discusses some of the civic functions of local mosques 
in Islamic Art in Context: Art , Architecture and the Literary World (New York: 
Harry N. Abrams, 1997), 57-77 . 

47. The mosque’s spiritual function is often identified by a calligraphic 
inscription from Qur’an 5.55, usually on the outer door: “Your (real) friends 
are (no less than) Allah, His Messenger, and the Believers — those who establish 
regular prayers and pay zakdt and they bow down humbly (in worship).” 

48. See the important works on Arabic calligraphy, including Yousif 
Mahmud Ghulum, The Art of Arabic Calligraphy (Lafayette, Calif.: Y. M. Ghulam, 
1982); George Atiyeh, ed., The Book in the Islamic World: The Written Word and 
Communication in the Middle East (Albany: State University of New York Press, 
1995); and Nabih F. Safwat, The Art of the Pen: Calligraphy of the 14th to 20th 
Centuries (London: Nour Foundation, 1996). 

49. El 2 , “mihrab,” 1 . 

50. See Grabar, The Formation of Islamic Art, chap. 5, 99-131. 

51. El 2 , “mihrab, ” 8. 

52. Al-MajlisT, v. 43.2, p. 11. 

53. For the structure of prayer niches complete with hanging lamps, see 
Nuha N. N. Khoury, “The Mihrab Image: Commemorative Themes in Medi- 
eval Islamic Architecture,” Muqarnas, no. 9 (1992): 11-28. Assadullah Souren 
Melikian-Chirvani also provides an excellent explanation of the assimilation of 
Persian-Zoroastrian symbols in an Islamic cultural system. She explains how the 
imagery of the mihrab' s light corresponded with Zoroastrian views of the divine 

Notes to Pages 113-116 175 

fire. See “The Light of Heaven and Earth: From the Chahar-taq to the Mihrab,” 
Bulletin of the Asia Institute 4 (1990): 95-131. Also, Sheila S. Blair and Jona- 
than B. Bloom, eds., Images of Paradise in Islamic Art (Hanover, N.H.: Hood 
Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, 1991), 36-40, discuss the mosque lamp 
as a symbol of Paradise, sometimes surrounded by images of heavenly gardens 
and flora. 

54. Khoury, “The Mihrah Image,” 13-14. 

55. Ibid. Khoury discusses the mihrab of Punja "Ali at Mosul (1287-88); he 
describes the mihrab' s adornment along with two references to Imam v Ali hand 
imprints and the hoof of his horse (contact relics). 

56. See Priscilla Soucek’s insigh tful article, “The Temple after Solomon: 
the Role of Maryam bint Imran and Her Mihrab,” Jewish Art 23-24 (1997-98): 

57. See the Tafsir Muqatil ibn Sulayman, as discussed in Soucek, “The 
Temple after Solomon,” 35. 

58. Soucek, “The Temple after Solomon,” 36. Muslims visited Jesus’ cradle 
in commemoration of the Qur’anic miracle described in 19.30-33 wherein Jesus 
(as an infant in a cradle) defends his mother’s virtue. 

59. Raya Shani, A Monumental Manifestation of the Shiite Faith in Late 
Twelfth -Century Iran: The Case of the Gunhad-i Alawiydn , Hamadan (Oxford: Ox- 
ford University Press, 1996). 

60. Ibid., 141. 

61. Shani, A Monumental Manifestation , includes a broader discussion of 
verses which appear on primarily Shkite architecture: Qur’an 5.55-56; 76.1-9; 
and 53.1-30. 

62. Shani, A Monumental Manifestation, discusses this verse, 126-27. 

63. Al-TabarsI, Majma" al-haydn fi tafsir al-qur'dn (Tehran, Beyrouth, 
1274/1900); as discussed in Shani, A Monumental Manifestation, 126. 

64. See, for example, al-MajlisT, vol. 11, pp. 164-65. 

65. Al-Ash v ari, the great tenth-century theologian, articulated a theology 
widely considered orthodox by Sunni Muslims. 

66. See the innovative work of Yasser Tabbaa, The Transformation of Islamic 
Art during the Sunni Revival (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2001). 

67. Rizvi, “Gendered Patronage,” 134. 

68. Ibid., 134-40. 

69. See Francis Romeril Maddison, Science, Tools, and Magic (London: Nour 
Foundation, 1997). Maddison discusses magical bowls inscribed with the names 
of the Twelve Imams found in India and China, 72-104. 

70. For a fall history of this symbol, see Dominique Champault and A. R. 
Verbrugge, Le Main: Ses figurations au Maghreb et au Levant (Paris: Musee de 
l’Homme, 1965); and Richard Bachinger and Helga Exler, Die Hand: Schutz und 

176 Notes to Pages 116-123 

Schmuch in Nordafrika: Katalog zur Ausstellung der Galerie Exler & Co ., vom. 1-30, 
(Frankfurt am Main: Die Galerie, 1981). 

7 1 . Other works that contain discussions of the hand amulet specific to Islam 
include Sandor Fodor, Amulets from the Islamic World: Catalogue of the Exhibition 
Held in Budapest in 1988 (Budapest: Eotvos Lorand University, 1988); Peter W. 
Schienerl, Schmuck und Amulett in Antike und Islam (Aachen: Alano, 1988); and 
Rudolf Kriss and Hubert Kriss-Heinrich, Volksglaube im Bereich des Islam, Bd. 
2: Amulette , Zauberformein, und Beschvooerungen (Wiesbaden: O. Harrassowitz, 
1962). Doris Jean Austin and Martin Simmons, eds., Streetlights: Illuminating 
Tales of the Urban Black Experience (New York: Penguin Books, 1996), include 
the hand amulet in their work on Islam and the urban black experience in the 
United States. Irene Markoff discusses specific Sufi representations of the hand 
in “Music, Saints, and Ritual: Sanaa" and the Alevis of Turkey,” in Manifestations 
of Sainthood in Islam, ed. Grace Smith and Carl W. Ernst (Istanbul: Isis Press, 
1993), 102. 

72. Champault and Verbrugge, Le Main, 18-20. 


1 . See the overview of Marian imagery in Catholic Christianity in Maurice 
Hamington, Hail Mary? The Struggle for Ultimate Womanhood in Catholicism (New 
York: Routledge, 1995); and Charles E. Curran, Margaret A. Farley, and Rich- 
ard A. McCormick, eds., Feminist Ethics and the Catholic Moral Tradition (New 
York: Paulist Press, 1996). 

2. See the Catholic Church’s account of the Marian apparition in Fatima, 
Portugal, in William Thomas Walsh, Our Lady of Fatima (New York: Double- 
day, 1954). 

3. See Melissa R. Katz, Robert Orsi, and Davis Museum and Cultural 
Center, Divine Mirrors: The Virgin Mary in Visual Arts (Oxford: Oxford Uni- 
versity Press, 2001); and Kristy Nabhan- Warren, The Virgin of El Barrio: Mar- 
ian Apparitions, Catholic Evangelizing, and Mexican American Activism (New York: 
New York University Press, 2005). 

4. Such historical inquiries have been forwarded by Rosemary Radford 
Ruether, Elisabeth Schiissler Fiorenza, Mary Daly, and Elizabeth Johnson. 

5. See Charlene Spretnak, Missing Mary: The Queen of Heaven and Her Re- 
Emergence in the Modern World (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004). 

6. See Colonel Sir Lewis Pelly, The Miracle Play of Hasan and Husain (Lon- 
don: Wm. H. Allen and Co., 1879), esp. scenes 1-4. In scene 4, p. 57, Muham- 
mad refers to Fatima “the Mary of this people.” 

Notes to Page 123 177 

7. See Vernon James Schubel, Religious Performance in Contemporary Islam: 
ShTi Devotional Rituals in South Asia (Columbia: University of South Carolina 
Press, 1993), 35-43. 

8. See David Pinault, The ShPites: Ritual and Popular Piety in a Muslim Com- 
munity (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992); also Pinault, “Zaynab bint "Ali and 
the Place of Women in the Households of the First Imams in Shkite Devotional 
Literature,” in Women in the Medieval Islamic World , ed. Gavin R. G. Hambly 
(New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998). 

9. See "Ali Sharkati, Fatima Is Fatima (Tehran: Sharkati Foundation, 1981); 
William R. Darrow’s discussion of Sharkati in “Women’s Place and the Place of 
Women in the Iranian Revolution,” in Women , Religion , and Social Change , ed. 
Yvonne Haddad and Ellison Banks Findly (New York: State University of New 
York Press, 1985), 307-19; and Marcia Hermansen, “Fatimeh as a Role Model 
in the Works of Ali Sharkati,” in Women and Revolution in Iran , ed. Guity Nashat 
(Boulder, Colo.: Wes tview Press, 1983). 


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'Abbasid caliphate, 4, 19, 21-24, 34, 

abbess(es), 3-4, 6, 38, 55, 69, 89, 
91,95-97, 106, 109, 111, 121, 

ablution, 42, 59, 112 

Abu Bakr, 3, 18, 76,91-93 

Abu Talib, Muhammad’s uncle, 22 

Acts of Paul and Thecla , 45 

Adam, 20, 42, 46, 60, 62, 75, 83-86, 
146n29, 149n6, 157n86, 164n79, 

ahl al-hayt, 3, 6-7, 20-22, 24, 34, 
62,64, 68-69, 81-86, 93-94, 
98-101, 111, 113, 126, 128, 130, 
133, 142n37, 142n39, 157n86, 
160n38; as hayt al-ahzan, 77. See 
also holy family, Shfite 

ahl al-kisa', 20. See also people of the 

v A’isha bint Abi Bakr, 19, 38, 91-94, 
121, 160n35 

v Ali ibn Abi Talib, 3,12, 21-24, 
31,34, 63-64, 74-76,81-83, 
86,91-94, 101, 112, 114, 121, 
135n5, 141n28, 148n43, 159n29, 

v Ali Shariati, 123 

v Alids, 18, 19, 21-23. See also shiat K Ali 

Ambrose of Milan, 2, 14, 37, 50-53, 
71-72, 78, 120, 148n46, 166nl08 
amulet, 116, 118. See also hand, 

anchorite(s), 47, 162n60, 166nl06 
angel(s), 1, 49, 50, 58, 62-63, 72, 75- 
76, 93-94, 102, 106, 167nl23. 

See also Gabriel 

archetypes: Eve, 87; Fatima, 85, 87; 

Marian, 56, 87, 95 
architecture, 100, 105, 109, 113-15, 
170nl0, 172n21 

Arian(-ism), 2, 11-12, 14-15, 69, 78, 
80-81,95, 120, 139n7, 161n47 
ark: of the covenant, 49, 51, 106, 
Mary as, 106, 108; Noah’s, 


v Arwa, Ismahli queen, 4 
asceticism, 37, 41, 44, 46-48, 52, 

57, 70, 153n42, 162n60. See also 

Athansius of Alexandria, 47 
Augustine of Hippo, 2, 14, 37, 58, 
71-72, 78, 148n46, 154n49, 

Avitus of Vienne, 54 

Balthild, Merovingian queen, 16, 87, 




Banu Hashim , 22-23 
basilica, 81, 91, 100, 105-6, 109 
batin, 23, 115 

al-batul. See Fatima bint Muhammad, 
as al-batul 

Baudonivia, Merovingian nun, 38 
bayt al-ahzan. See ahl al-bayt\ ahl 
al-bayt , as al-ahzan 
bedouin, 32, 112 
Bihar al-anwar, 36 

bishop(s), 2, 3, 13, 16-18, 24, 30, 37- 
38,78, 86-87, 90, 96-98, 110, 
120, 140nl9, 145nl6, 165nl04 
blood, 12, 23, 42-43, 60, 82, 86, 138n2 
Bobbio Missal, 1 5 
bride(s), 7, 50, 54, 69-71,81,87, 
95,98, 115-16, 121, 157n6; of 
Christ, 54,70-72, 79, 89, 95, 

122; Fatima as, 97; Israel as, 

49; Muhammad’s young bride 
"A’isha, 92; Shkite, 75 
Bridegroom, Christ as, 52-53, 56, 65, 
69-71,74, 87-88 
Brunhild, Merovingian queen, 16, 
86-87, 140n20, 155n61, 164n91 
Buyid dynasty, 24, 123 
Byzantine, 102, 170n9 

Caesarius of Arles, and his Rule for 
Nuns, , 55,95-97, 168nl31 
Cairo, 24, 31 

Caliph(-ate), 3, 4, 18-19, 21-22, 

24, 62,92, 112, 123, 135n5, 
141nl29. See also "Abbasid 
caliphate; Umayyad caliphate 
calligraphy, Arabic, 100, 112, 118 
canonization, in Islam, 32 
Carolingian dynasty, 15, 30, 110 
catacombs, 7, 100, 110, 188; Priscilla, 

celibacy, 44-47. See also virginity 

charisma, and religious authority, 5, 
54, 76, 124 

charity, 30, 52-53, 55-56, 64, 72, 87, 
162n58, 166nl05, 166nll2 
chastity, 2, 5, 41, 43-47, 54-55, 

64, 69-70, 88, 97, 1 22. See also 

Chilperic, Merovingian king, 56, 

Christ. See Jesus; Jesus, as Christ 
Christology, 4, 18, 72, 78, 119, 120 
claustration, 55, 88, 95-97 
Clement of Alexandria, 45-46 
clergy, 14, 39, 38, 51-52, 64, 78, 
95-98, 109-10; in Islam, 32 
clerics, Shkite, 24, 69, 98, 121 
cloister, 54-56 

Clothild, Merovingian queen, 80-81, 

Clovis I, Merovingian king, 80 
Clovis II, Merovingian king, 87 
Columbanus, Irish missionary, 86, 

Constantine, Roman emperor, 16, 80 
conversion, 80-81, 86, 88-89, 

cosmology, Shkite, 6, 23, 37, 62, 82 
Council of Ephesus, 13, 105, 136n9 
cradle (ofjesus), 113, 175n58 
crypt, 110 

Cyril, Bishop of Alexandria, 1 3 

David, king, 15, 49 
deaconess(es), 96, 168nl38 
demon(s), 29-30, 47, 101, 116 
desert: Husayn’s death in, 19; 

spirituality of, 29, 32, 47, 52, 89, 
144nl0, 151n24, 153n42 
doctrine, 6, 15, 20, 36, 68, 91 
domestic space, 5-6, 28, 38-39, 43, 
48, 50, 56, 69, 73-74, 77, 79-80, 

Index 203 

83,90, 94-95,97-98, 116, 120, 
122-24, 162n58, 169nl40 
Douglas, Mary, 41 
dowry, 74-75 

ecclesia , 13, 37, 45, 63, 70-71 
Egypt(-ian), 4,29, 47, 89,103, 

Elijah, prophet, 29, 47 
episcopal authority. See bishop(s) 
Eucharist, 78, 97, 106, 168nl38 
Eve, 5, 15, 42-43, 46-47, 60, 83-84, 
86-87, 101, 121, 158nl5; 
Hawwa’, 83-87, 97 
extremists, 20, 23 

Fadak, oasis of, 76, 160n40 
Fatima al-Ma'suma, the eighth 
Imam’s sister, 101, 115-16 
Fatima bint Muhammad: as al-batul , 
59-60, 64, 116, 123; al-haniya , 
74; Maryam al-kubra , 1, 60, 
156n76; ma'suma, 5; Mistress of 
Sorrows, 76-77; Mistress of the 
Women of the World, 85; tahira , 
5; al-zahra , 5, 100, 116, 120, 123 
Feast of the Assumption, 15, 140nl6 
fertility, spiritual, 43, 55, 103 
Fifth Council of Carthage, 110, 

fiqh , Islamic jurisprudence, 33, 


food, 89, 162n58; and asceticism, 52, 
58; and Mary, 48; in miraculous 
provision, 32, 69, 83, 113, 120, 
163n77; in paradise, 59 
Fortunatus, Bishop of Poitiers, 38, 
55-56, 154n59 

Franks, 2-3, 13, 15-16, 80-89, 95, 
120, 155n60. See also Merovin- 
gian dynasty 

fruit, 89; Adam and Eve and, 46, 85; 
Fatima and, 59-60, 82, 86, 97; 
of paradise, 7 5 ; as spiritual 
deeds, 53 

Fuscina, Merovingian holy woman, 54 

Gabriel, 59-60, 62-63, 72, 75, 93. See 
also angel 

Galswinth, Merovingian holy woman, 
56, 155n61, 155n63 
Gaul, 2, 4, 8, 13-14, 16-17, 29-30, 
37-38, 47, 79, 80-81, 86-88, 95, 
109, 141n27, 173n36 
Genovefa, 81 
gentile, 41 
Ghadir Khumm, 93 
ghayba. See occultation 
ghuluww/ghulat. See extremists 
ghusl , 59, 156n74 
Glodesind, Frankish holy woman, 

109, 111, 173n45 
gnostic, 12 

Gospels, 45,48, 50, 152n39 
Goths, 2, 15, 69, 95 
Gregory the Great, pope, 8 
Gregory of Tours, 13, 15-16, 28, 38, 
78, 80,91, 110, 140nl8, 153n45, 

Gunbad-i "Alawiyan, mosque/mauso- 
leum, 101, 114 

hadith, 4-5, 20, 22, 32-38, 42, 57, 
59-60, 62-63, 69, 74, 77, 81-82, 
84, 92-94, 100, 102, 112, 116, 
119, 147n34, 148n43, 156n76, 
159n23, 164n84, 167nl21 
hagiography, 4, 8, 14, 25, 27-28, 
30-34, 38,41,47, 55, 83,86, 89, 

110, 143n3, 145n22 

halakhic , Jewish legal traditions, 41, 59 
hand, amulet, 101, 116, 118, 176n71 

204 Index 

handmaid, 5-6, 72, 81, 90, 98, 106, 
109, 1 54n48 
hand-mill, 94 
harlot, 47, 151n24 
Hasan ibn "Ali, 6, 18, 20, 34, 59, 63, 
82, 86, 101, 141n29, 149n4 
Hashimiyyah, 2 1 
Hawwa’. See Eve, Hawwa’ 
heaven, 14-16, 32, 34, 42, 44, 54, 
57-60, 62, 75, 86, 90, 106, 109, 
113, 115, 118, 122, 141n22. See 
also paradise 

hell, 39, 63, 75-77, 83, 120 
heresy, 2, 13-15, 39, 78, 83, 85, 124 
hermit(s), 29, 32, 89 
heterodox, 2, 6, 113 
Hildephonsus of Toledo, 63 
Holy Cross convent, 55 
holy family, Shi"ite, 3, 6, 18, 20, 

36-37, 43, 63-65, 69, 75, 81-83, 
85-86,91, 100-101, 113, 116, 
120, 122, 157n86. See also ahl 

holy man, 2, 30, 32 
Holy of Holies, 49, 5 1 
Holy Spirit, 48,71,79 
houris, 57, 60, 75, 121 
house of sorrows. See ahl al-bayt, ahl 
al-bayt, as bayt al-ahzan 
Huns, 2, 78, 81 

Husayn ibn Ali, 6, 3 1, 34, 59, 63, 76, 
81-82,86, 101, 122-23, 149n4, 
157n86, 161n44; at Karbala, 

Ibn Babawayh, Shi"ite scholar, 36 
icon, 44, 47, 70, 100, 102-3, 122, 
ijtihad, 98 
illiterate, 36, 62 
dim, 24 

Imamate, 3, 6, 18-19, 21-22, 24, 

43, 62-63, 65, 76, 119. See also 

Imams, 3, 21, 23-24, 31, 34, 36-37, 
74, 76, 97-98, 112, 115, 121, 

imitatio Christi, 29, 144nl2 
Immaculate Conception, 37, 48, 60, 
138n2, 148n46 

infallible, 1-3, 5, 22, 31, 97, 120, 121 
intercession, 14, 32, 51, 81, 90-91, 
103, 113, 116, 165nl04 
Iran(-ian), 5, 24, 101, 113-14, 123. 

See also Persia 

Irenaeus of Lyons, 46, 58, 158nl5 
"Isa. See Jesus, "Isa 
Isis, 103 

Islamic jurisprudence. See fiqh, Islamic 
dsma, 97. See also infallible 
Isma"ili, 23-24 
isnad, 33 

Israel(-ites), 15, 41, 44, 49, 51, 70, 86 
Isra dliyat, 84 

Ithna-' Ash ariyy a. See Twelvers 

JaTar al-Sadiq, sixth Imam, 23-24, 

34, 76 

Jerome, church father, 37, 51-53, 58, 
70, 120, 145nl4, 153n42 
Jerusalem, 27, 71, 112-13, 141n26 
Jesus, 1, 11-12, 14, 19-20, 44, 48, 

50, 52-53,60,81,88, 99, 101, 
113, 119-20, 146n29, 151n26, 
152n39, 163n77, 175n58; as 
Christ, 1-6, 8, 11-15, 18, 24, 
29,37,44-47, 50-54, 63-64, 

68, 70-72,78-79,81,89-90, 

95, 100, 103, 105-6, 109, 111, 
118, 122; "Isa, 1, 19, 113. See also 
Bridegroom, Christ as 



Jezebel, 86-87 
jihad, 73 
jinn, 116 

John, gospel of, 50, 72 

John Paul II, pope, 122 

Joseph, Mary’s “guardian,” 48-49, 

95, 122 

Judaism, 14-15, 59, 99 
judgment day, 6, 74, 97, 122 

Karbala, 19, 31, 63-64, 76, 81, 123, 

Kaysaniyya, 2 1 
Khadija, 19, 60, 62, 93 
Kharijites, 18 
Kitab al-Irshad , 35-36 
Kufa, 19, 21 

Kufic-style, calligraphy, 115 
al-Kulayni, Shfite scholar, 36, 62, 75 

lamp(s), 7, 56, 62-64, 100, 112-13, 
116, 118, 148n43, 174n53 
law code, Frankish, 80 
Leviticus, book of, 56 
Liberius, pope, 105 
light verse, Qur’an 24.35, 62, 112 
Luke, gospel of, 1, 45, 70, 72, 163n77, 
166nl 12, 166nll3 
lust, 22, 46-47, 52, 54-55, 57, 90 

madrasa , 98, 115-16 
Mahdi, 2 1 , 36 

al-Mansur, "Abbasid caliph, 2 1 
Mark, gospel of, 44, 70 
marriage, 44-46, 54, 57, 69-70, 
72-76, 88, 95-96, 122, 149n6, 
159n29; spiritual, 54; temporary 
or mufa, 58 

Martha, sister of Mary, 90, 163n77, 
166nl 12 

Martin of Tours, 2, 16, 30, 80 

martyr(s): Husayn, 19-21, 31, 63, 76, 
123, 157n86; in Christianity, 29, 
49,55,88, 106, 110, 144nl0 
Mary: and Chris tology, 4, 12-13, 78; 
in material culture, 6-7, 16-17, 
91,99, 100, 103, 105-6, 109-11, 
113, 116, 118; as mother, 6, 
68-70, 72,77-79,81,87, 89, 

95, 97, 120; as virgin, 3, 8, 37, 
43-45,47-52,60, 71,88, 121, 
138n2, 151n26, 152n39. See also 
matriarch, Mary as 
Maryam al-kubra. See Fatima bint 
Muhammad, Maryam al-kubra 
Maryam bint Imran, 60. See also Mary 
Mary of Egypt, 47, 151n24 
Mary, sister of Martha, 163n77, 

166nl 12 

mass, Christian liturgy, 15, 78, 110 
mad suma. See infallible 
matn, 33 

matriarch: Fatima as, 5-6, 62, 69, 77, 
82-83, 86, 97-98; Mary as, 6, 77, 
98, 118; Merovingian queens as, 

matrons, Roman, 46-47, 52 
Matthew, gospel of, 56 
Melania the Younger, 90, 166nl06 
Melchizedek, 106-7 
menstruation, 41, 49, 84, 86, 97, 138n2 
Merovingian dynasty, 2-4, 8, 11, 
15-18,30,37-38, 56, 69,78-80, 
86, 88-91,96, 100, 106, 109-10, 
118, 120, 121, 155n60, 162n60, 
165nl04, 166nl05, 173n36 
midwife, 48 -49 

mihrab , 110-14, 116. See also niche, 

milk, 56, 70, 153n45; Mary’s breast 
milk, 15,48, 103, 138n2, 171nl8, 

206 Index 

minbar , 112 
mi raj, 59, 62 
Missale Gothicum, 1 5 
missionary(-ies), 8, 80, 86-87 
Mistress of Sorrows. See Fatima bint 
Muhammad, Mistress of Sorrows 
Mistress of the Women of the World. 
See Fatima bint Muhammad, 
Mistress of the Women of the 

monastery, 55, 88-89, 96-97, 106, 111 
morgengaben, 80 

mosaics, 100, 105-6, 111, 116, 118 
mosque, 7, 99-101, 111-16, 118 
mourn(ing), 76-77 , 81, 86, 161n44 
Mu'awiya, 18 
mubahala, 20 

al-Mufid, Shfite scholar, 36, 83 
Muhammad, 1, 3, 5, 18, 20-24, 

32-35, 38,42, 59-60, 62,65, 
74-76, 81-82, 85-86, 91-93, 

97, 100, 112, 114-15, 120; and 
the holy family, 3, 20, 63, 100, 
116, 148n43. See also Prophet, 

Muhammad al-Baqir, fifth Imam, 24 
Muhammad Baqir al-Majlisi, Shkite 
scholar, 36-37 

Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyya, "Ali’s 
son, 21, 142n35 
Muharram, 19, 161n44 
Mukhtar ibn Abu "Ubayd al-Thaqafi, 

musk, 57, 60, 84 

mui a, 58. See also marriage 

nails, 63 
nass , 24 

Nestorian(s), 12, 171nl8 
Nestorius, patriarch of Constanti- 
nople, 13 

New Testament, 47, 50, 70, 100, 106 
niche, prayer, 7, 62-63, 100, 111-14, 

1 74n5 3 . See also mihrab 
Noah, 63-64, 116, 120, 146n29 
nur, 6, 23, 42, 59, 62-63, 76, 86, 113, 

occupation, 21, 24, 36, 98, 121, 

Odes of Solomon, 48 

Old Testament, 15, 30, 47, 51, 56, 63, 
70, 79, 105-6 
oratory, 109-10 
Origen, church father, 13,53 
original sin 58, 84, 148n46 
Ottoman empire, 113 

paradise, 2, 14, 39, 57-60, 62, 69, 
73-77, 81-82, 85-86, 95, 97, 
100-101, 122-23, 155n64, 
175n53. See also heaven 
parturition, 15, 69, 78, 120, 151n26 
party of v Ali, 1 1, 21, 82. See also shi at 
\ All 

passion, 46, 60, 71; play, 121 
patron(s), 80, 146n25; women in 
Christianity, 29, 54, 90; women 
in Islam, 3 8 

Paul, apostle, 16, 44-47, 70, 153n45, 

Paula, Roman Christian, 53, 145nl4 
Pelagia of Antioch, 47 
people of the cloak, 20, 22. See also ahl 

Perpetua and Felicitas, Christian 
martyrs, 88 

perpetual virginity, 15, 37, 48, 50, 72, 

Persia, 4, 36. See also Iran(-ian) 
pilgrim(s), 17, 90, 110-11 
pilgrimage(s), 17, 31, 80, 91, 113, 115 



Poitiers, convent, 55, 162n60 
politics, 39, 68, 101 
pollution, 41, 43, 59, 62, 121 
pope. See Gregory the Great; John 
Paul II; Liberius; Sixtus III 
prayer, 30, 53, 59, 74, 77-78, 83, 
89-91, 111-14. See also niche, 

pregnancy, 43, 49, 72; spiritual, 53-55 
pregnant, 6, 51, 53, 60, 62, 64 
prelapsarian, 46-48, 57, 64 
priest, 3, 6, 13, 31, 37, 49, 51-52, 56, 
69, 86-87, 97-98, 110-11, 116, 
118, 120, 122 
Priscilla catacomb, 103 
progeny, 1, 3, 22, 54, 62-64, 68, 73, 
97, 119 

Prophet, Muhammad, 3,4, 12, 18-19, 
20-22, 24, 32, 33-36, 38, 42, 59- 
60, 62-63, 73-77, 81-83, 91-94, 
102, 114, 119, 121, 146n27. See 
also Muhammad 
Protevangelium of James, 48, 95 
prototype, 47, 49, 84, 88, 103; Fatima 
as, 8, 116; Mary as, 2, 52, 69, 106 
purity, 1, 20, 41-43, 52-53, 59-60, 
67, 71, 86, 97, 112; and Fatima, 

6, 59, 64-65, 94; and Mary, 11, 
64, 7 1 . See also ritual 
Purity and Danger (Douglas), 41 

Qisas al-anbiya. See Tales of the 
Quarayshi, 62 

queen(s): Ismadli "Arwa, 4; Merovin- 
gian, 3-4, 6, 16, 56, 69, 80-81, 
86-87, 89, 106, 120-21, 154n48, 
162n58; Shkite, 5, 116 
Qum, 115 

Qur’an, verses from and interpreta- 
tion of, 1,20,32,62,73,83-84, 

92, 112-14, 142n37, 146n25, 
155n64, 156n73, 160n30, 

164n79, 169n3, 171nl5, 174n47, 

Radegund of Poitiers, 55-56, 90-91, 
109, 167nll5 
Rashidun, four, 91 

relics, 15-17, 27, 30, 80, 101, 109-10, 
173n36, 173n45; in Islam, v Ali’s, 
175n55; Husayn’s head, 31; of 
Mary, 3, 8, 15, 17, 100, 110, 118, 
120, 141n26 

resurrection, 45, 47, 75-76 
Revelation, book of, 71, 158nl0 
ritual, 4, 15, 27-28, 31, 74, 98, 114; 
purity in Islam, 20, 42, 59, 112. 
See also purity 

Rome, 17, 1-3, 105-6, 108, 141n27 

Safavid, Shkite dynasty, 115-16, 
s ah ah a, 93 

salat, 83. See also prayer 
Salome, midwife, 49-50 
Sancta Maria Maggiore, cathedral, 
100, 105-6, 108, 116 
sanctity, 8, 12, 29, 31, 37, 89, 124 
Satan, 29, 46, 84-85, 89, 164n84 
school(s), 17, 38 
sculpture, 100 

sectarian, 2-3, 6, 8, 21, 91, 94-95, 
115, 119-21, 135n5 
seed, 6, 53. See also semen 
Seljuk dynasty, 115 
semen, 6, 59. See also seed 
sexuality, 44-46, 54, 71, 79, 121; in 
Islam, 57-58 

shiatAli, 11, 18-19,21,82, 141n29. 

See also party of v Ali 
shirk, 85 

208 Index 

shrine(s): in Christianity, 43, 80; in 
Islam, 28, 31, 101, 114-16, 118, 

sin, 5, 37, 45-46, 48, 57-59, 83-85, 
92,97, 121, 138n2, 148n46 
Sixtus III, pope, 105-6 
Song of Songs, Hebrew Bible, 70-71 
suffering, 19, 28-29, 64, 76-77, 81, 
90, 94, 123 

Sufi(-ism), 36, 57, 146n25 
Sulpicius Severus, 30 
sunna , 33, 75 

Sunni, 3, 24, 33-34, 36-37, 74, 
91-94, 113-15, 120-21, 135n5, 
142n39, 147n34, 167nl21 
Syria, 24, 3 1 

al-Tabarsi, Shfite scholar, 114 
tabernacle, 49, 51-52, 56, 58, 64 
tafsir , 33 

tahira. See Fatima bint Muhammad, 

Tales of the Prophets , 32, 84 
tawhid , 73, 85, 103 
taziya , 123 

temple, 15, 48-52, 90, 95, 113, 120, 

temporary marriage. See mufa 
Tertullian, church father, 58 
Thecla, 45-46, 88, 173n38 
Theotokos , 12-13, 105 
throne: of God, 42, 74, 82, 85, 103, 
109, 118; verse (Qur’an 2.255), 

Trinitarian debate, 14, 37, 79 
tuba tree, 7 5 
al-Tusi, Abu JaTar, 75 
Twelvers, 23-24, 42, 121 

v ulama\ Muslim scholars, 36, 98 
"Umar, 76,91,93 

Umayyad caliphate, 3, 18-21, 23, 34 
Umm Kulthum, 59 
umma , 32, 93-94 
"Uthman, 18, 91, 93 

vessel(s), bodies as, 5-6, 42-43, 51, 

56, 62-64, 119-21, 124 
virgin birth, 60, 7 1 
Virgin Mary. See Mary 
virginity, 45-46, 79, 91, 121-23, 153n 
40; Mary’s, 15, 37, 47-48, 50-52, 
72. See also asceticism 
Vita Paulae , 5 3 

wealth, 29-30, 38, 46, 52, 54, 75, 

80, 87, 89-91, 95-96, 166nl06, 
wean, 6, 83 
wedding, 56, 74-76 
widow(s), 70, 56; widower, Joseph, 59 
wilaya , 32 

womb, 6, 42-44, 53-56, 62, 64, 
119-20; Fatima’s, 6, 62, 64-65, 
82; Mary’s, 5-6, 13,47-49, 
51-52,75, 78, 88-89, 106 
wudu , 59 

Yazid, Umayyad caliph, 18-19, 21 
Yemen(i), 4, 20, 24 

zahir , esoteric, 23, 115 
zakat , tithe, 114 
Zaydi(s), 23-24 

Zaynab, Fatima’s daughter, 59, 123 
ziyara , 3 1 . See also pilgrimage(s) 

Mary F. Thurlkill 

is assistant professor of religion at the University of Mississippi.